The new school year is just around the corner — or, for some, may have already started. With so much to do to prepare, it's the perfect time to remind schools about some community-centric ideas that can be easily implemented from the district level down on day one.
Here are four methods that can be used in schools to encourage civic engagement in and out of the classroom.
1. Bring in classroom speakers from the community
Sure, field trips can be pricey — even time consuming — but that doesn't mean students should miss the opportunity to interact with the world beyond the brick-and-mortar classroom. We recently profiled stellar virtual field trip options, but why not kick it up a notch and invite members of the community into your school? Career Day doesn't have to be once a year, and now would be a good time to have teachers send invitations to community leaders.
Tell them to look for "real people" to come in and speak to students about different career options and opportunities — and to hopefully inspire them to think outside of the box when it comes to their futures. These guests could be a journalist from the local paper, a financial life coach in the community, an entrepreneur, or a farmer. The options a limitless. If you really want to spark the interest of your students, you can also see if any of their parents would be interested in coming in.
While speakers can have interesting jobs, they can also have interesting passions or life experiences. Speakers should be invited to either speak about their personal path to where they are now, or to be part of a mini-lesson teaching a skill they use often or think is important. Since Fridays tend to be a somewhat more relaxed day in most schools, inviting guests to come during the last period on a Friday, or during lunch or recess, would be a good option. Limiting the visit to an hour is probably best for both the guest and some of the more restless students.
2. Consider a school-wide beautification project
Beautification projects — such as mural painting, park/beach clean ups, etc. — typically take a whole bunch of planning and work best in the spring time, which means if you start brainstorming now, you should be ready.
While it's definitely possible to spearhead your own project, there also are a number of organizations willing to help. KaBOOM!, for example, helps eligible schools build playgrounds. If a school's application is accepted, KaBOOM! will work with them and supply the materials necessary. According to the company's website, ideal partners:
- Serve children from low-income or disadvantaged backgrounds
- Can provide at least a 50-foot by 50-foot patch of land for the playground
- Can recruit 15 parent, community, and staff volunteers to participate in planning committees
- Can recruit 100-150 parents and community volunteers to help build the playground in one day
- Are able to raise and contribute $8,500 to $10,000 cash towards the cost of equipment
This definitely requires the planning, but if you can create a committee of 5-10 teachers, parents, and students to spearhead this, you should be able to get it done.
3. Consider a school wide entrepreneur project
Lemonade Day is a perfect example of a way to get students thinking beyond classrooms and actually applying academic learning to the real world.
On May 3, 2015, students across the country will create lemonade stands, but before then, they will learn important lessons in business. Once schools (or parents) sign up to be a part of Lemonade Day, they will get a workbook with 14 lessons to teach students. Upon completion, they will have firsthand experience with all aspects of a business — branding, marketing, and customer service. Even cooler: Students get to keep the money earned and decides how they wish to spend it. If done as a school project, however, perhaps an agreement can be made regarding funds earned by the class going to a specific charity that students vote on, using it to improve the school in a way that students determine, or maybe even for new reading books.
4. Improving literacy with reading buddies
Speaking of reading, on a smaller scale, reading buddies is an excellent way to create inter-grade bonding by having older students work with younger students on their literacy skills. Perhaps you can even have the two classes bond beyond reading and work on their previously mentioned lemonade stands together, or on a beautification project you choose. This is a chance to not only help students work on their reading, but to provide younger students with a mentor and older students with an opportunity to become leaders in the school community.