STEM Integrations Community Partnership Series: Recognizing Cultures and Celebrating Diversity in STEM/STEAM
Written by Krista M. Stith & Rachel L. Geesa; Infinite Capacity, LLC
Community partnerships are “the formal and informal local and global community connections, collaborative projects, and relationships that advance the school’s learning goals” (Alliance for Excellent Education, 2019). Purposeful partnering with community organizations provides a number of benefits, which include: enrichment and support in the socio-emotional development for students, career pathways, civic engagement, development of career-oriented soft and hard skills, and a sense of community. Through our STEM Integrations Community Partnership series, we have addressed community partnerships in many aspects of school programming, such as curricular enrichment in virtual environments, socio-emotional needs, cybersecurity and safety, and multicultural education.
If community partnerships have such strong evidence of benefits to schools and districts, why do we not see more community partnerships integrated?
From our research, the reasons are multi-tiered for why we do not see more community partnerships in schools and districts. Rationales collected from educators across the United States describe a lack of time, lack of resources and accessibility, lack of knowledge on how to work with community partners, and barriers due to higher priorities. In the summer of 2019, we participated in a summer STEM workshop for secondary educators in Indiana. Part of this workshop was to pay the educators for their time to ideate community partnerships for their schools, specifically community partnership integration to enrich the STEM curriculum. What we found was that a majority of the educators who participated in the workshop viewed community partnerships as inviting guest speakers in the classroom to speak to students about industry and career opportunities.
We certainly do not argue that community partners as guest speakers have significant utility, particularly in a college and career readiness lens; however, we believe that community partnerships can be much more dynamic. Examples include providing expert information to school stakeholders, providing out-of-classroom opportunities for students (e.g., intern/externships, mentorships, scholarships), curriculum integration to support authentic learning, and external support (e.g., funding, volunteers).
Building and sustaining community partnerships should develop from a strong recruitment framework that is thoughtfully executed. The following prompts are for educational leaders to consider in the recruitment, implementation, and evaluation of community partnerships.
- Preparing to Partner- Where do I begin?
- Align your vision of community partnerships with the school’s vision.
- Identify what resources will be needed in the partnership (e.g., people, facilities, supplies and materials).
- Prepare sources and evidence of how partnerships are fostering educational resilience and academic achievement.
- Assessing Needs and Strengths- How do I identify the goals of the partnership?
- Conduct needs and strengths assessment surveys and/or interviews with students, school personnel, and community members.
- Attend community events and learn about people/organizations that may be beneficial as potential partners.
- Uncover existing partnerships and their effectiveness.
- Identify the needs and strengths of community members and organizations that could serve as community partners
- Coming Together- How do I bring partners together?
- Connect with potential partners.
- Share with potential partners on how they can help, based on the data identified in the needs and strengths assessment survey.
- Creating a Shared Vision and Plan- How do I get everyone on board and on the same page?
- Use identified needs to create a partnership plan that would build on existing partnerships or consider starting new partnerships.
- Create a logic model.
- Create a 1-year, 3-year, and 5-year timeline with partnership activities.
- Communicate to stakeholders on how existing partnerships are already meeting identified needs.
- Communicate to stakeholders on how new partnerships may be beneficial in meeting identified needs.
- Agree to goals and expected outcomes with the community partner(s).
- Taking action- What will we do and how will we do it?
- Delegate responsibilities based on the school’s strengths and partner strengths.
- Implement activities according to the timeline.
- Plan for expected challenges.
- Involve the media.
- Evaluating and Celebrating Progress- How will I measure our success?
- Measure and evaluate each partnership to show the results/outcomes.
- Identify differences in programming (if any) resulting from the partnership, including what worked and what did not work.
- Celebrate the community partners and the accomplishments achieved.
Community Partnership Evaluation Instruments
A number of instruments are available to evaluate the community partnership. For example, the Center for the Advancement of Collaborative Strategies in Health (2002) provides a generalized self-assessment questionnaire that can be useful for schools and districts to identify strengths and weakness of community partners in synergy, leadership, efficiency, administration and management, non-financial resources, financial and capital resources, decision-making, benefits and drawbacks, and partnership satisfaction.
A shorter self-assessment survey is publicly available from the Hickman Mills C-1 School District in Kansas City, MO which looks at not only the impact of the community partnership, but also survey items related to how well the school’s educators and educational leaders made decisions on building the community partnership.
The Indiana Department of Education (IDOE) recommends reviewing the Community Partnership Toolkit, disseminated by the Colorado Education Initiative, which provides seven steps for expanding learning through community partnerships. This document also provides additional support for educational leaders to facilitate communicative partnerships such as community partnership agreement forms, student needs assessment surveys, community partner screening questions, volunteer recruitment fliers, and more.
Community partnerships can be a critical support system for achieving school goals; however, many Hoosier educators do not conceptualize community partnerships past inviting guest speakers to speak to students. Over the last several months, we have addressed how community partners can provide a much more dynamic role within multiple school programming initiatives (e.g., STEM curriculum integration, SEL, cybersecurity and safety, distance learning). Recruiting and sustaining community partners should be thoughtfully approached. In this segment, we provide a series of action steps for educational leaders to recruit partners and possible instruments to evaluate partnership initiatives.
We thank you for reading our STEM Community Partnership Series and we send you the best of wishes in the final weeks of the school year! Please look for our final article next month!
Alliance for Excellent Education (2019). Family-School-Community Partnerships. https://futureready.org/ourwork/future-ready-frameworks/family-school-community-partnerships/
The Colorado Initiative, Generation Schools Network, and 2Revolutions (2015). Designing Community Partnerships to Expand Student Learning: A Toolkit. Retrieved from https://www.doe.in.gov/sites/default/files/siresourcehub/ceicommunitypartnershiptoolkit.pdf
Center for the Advancement of Collaborative Strategies in Health. (2002). Partnership self-assessment tool questionnaire. Retrieved from https://atrium.lib.uoguelph.ca/xmlui/bitstream/handle/10214/3129/Partnership_Self-Assessment_Tool-Questionnaire_complete.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y.Hickman Mills C-1 School District. (2016). Partnership Self Assessment Tool. Retrieved from https://www.hickmanmills.org/site/handlers/filedownload.ashx?moduleinstanceid=13005&dataid=10556&FileName=Partnership%20analysis%20tool%20full%20document%2012-2016.pdf