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Addressing Barriers to Learning Through Community Partnerships

Addressing Barriers to Learning Through Community Partnerships

In my first week as a school social work intern I had the opportunity to attend a “provider breakfast” put on by the school district. School service personnel, community agencies, and service providers were in attendance. The event gave agencies and organizations the opportunity to showcase their services and increase the school social worker’s knowledge of the referral resources in the community. The event looked like cross between a research symposium, with tri-folds and pamphlets, and an open market place of service providers peddling their wares.

While the opportunity to learn about these organizations was beneficial, I can’t help but look back on the experience and feel like an opportunity was missed.

An opportunity for discourse on the needs of the community.

An opportunity to develop partnerships with these organizations–not just referral connections.

With all the expertise and resources in one place at one time–something with more sustenance could have been born from the event.

As school social workers, we’re keyed into the learning barriers that our students face. We know the detrimental impact of poverty, violence, mental illness, and drug abuse on our students’ ability to be successful in the classroom. We work intimately with them and their families to problem solve, build skills, and mitigate the effects of larger, systemic issues. Knowing that we are limited in our abilities, resources, and job descriptions, we provide referrals to resolve or decrease the impact these barriers.

But our referrals rarely become true partnerships. We are often the only contact these agencies have with our schools. Moreover our communications with these agencies are often limited to specific cases rather than strategic planning of ways to address systemic issues.

To be fair, we are often lacking the time and power to change this. Our buildings keep us more than busy with meetings, committees, IEP minute requirements, etc., etc., ad nauseam, etc. Making the time to create these partnerships may seem impossible. In fact it may very well be impossible–if we try to go at this alone. We’re most likely going to need support and involvement from our school and/or district administration, teachers, service personnel, and other stakeholders.

Here’s an example of what the La Crosse School District of Wisconsin is doing to build partnerships

The La Crosse district structured their initiative around the research conducted by the Center for Mental Health in Schools. Their website is chock-full of resources to address the mental health and psychosocial barriers to learning that children experience. Of particular relevance is their School-Community Partnership Guide. I highly recommend exploring their website.

The National Education Association (NEA) has also published a guide to forming community partnerships. The guide, Family-School-Community Partnerships 2.0, includes general strategies and 16 examples of collaborative partnerships and their impact on the students and communities.

Increasingly, it is evident that schools, families, and communities should work closely with each other to meet their mutual goals. Schools are located in communities, but often are islands with no bridges to the mainland. Families live in neighborhoods, often with little connection to each other or to the schools their youngsters attend. Neighborhood entities such as agencies, youth groups, and businesses have major stakes in the community. All these entities affect each other, for good or bad. Because of this and because they share goals related to education and socialization of the young, schools, homes, and communities must collaborate with each other if they are to minimize problems and maximize results.
-Center for Mental Health in Schools

Final thought:

On my last day of classes, I attended a speaking panel on community violence. The last speaker, a professor at my school, gave the following advice, “Schools are going to try to keep you in the box of special education and providing clinical services. Don’t let them. Real change results from addressing the systemic issues.”

Please leave a comment:
What partnerships do your schools have with its community? What’s working? What challenges have you faced in forming these partnerships?

About The Author

Scott Carchedi

Scott Carchedi is the founder and co-editor of SSWN. Scott provides technology support and consultative services to school social work associations across the US. Scott is also a practicing school social worker in the western suburbs of Chicago, serving grades 9-12.

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