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Leveraging Community Engagement to Solve Complex Problems

Step-by-step guidance to engaging the community in support of K-12 transformation

Overview

Community engagement is a critical component to solving problems at the local, state, and/or federal level. Community collaboration not only allows leaders to garner support, but also provides insight into the varying perspectives, historical wisdom, and insights from stakeholders with diverse experiences, backgrounds, and needs. By engaging the community, leaders are demonstrating an investment that can foster a shared responsibility to find sustainable solutions and respond to the real needs within the community.

Take the example of student nutrition – education leaders can strategically leverage the influence of community leaders, the resources of local businesses, and the insights of local experts to create successful nutrition solutions for virtual and hybrid learners as outlined by the following steps.

Step 1: Engage Community Leaders

Identify potential roles for virtual and hybrid school alumni, families, community leaders, and influencers in supporting and advocating for virtual and hybrid learning nutrition initiatives. Alumni and families have experience as virtual and hybrid learners, understanding the direct impact of nutrition services on their learning environment and family. Community leaders and influencers play a crucial role in engaging and motivating the community to support education leaders' initiatives and plans. It is important to explore ways to engage influential community members, whether through community centers, YMCAs, Boys and Girls Clubs, local religious organizations, or chambers of commerce. These leaders are vital stakeholders in raising awareness, mobilizing resources, and garnering community support.

Step 2: Leverage Existing Resources

Next, assess available community resources, such as local businesses, public venues like other schools and libraries, food banks, institutes of higher education, and nonprofit organizations that can be leveraged to support virtual nutrition programs. Then, begin to explore possible collaborations with these local partners to support sustainability and community engagement. For instance:

  • Partner with a local nonprofit or community business that offers meal delivery services for students living in rural areas or who have transportation challenges.

  • Build relationships with local farmers, market owners, or restaurants to offer nutritious, fresh foods to students with limited budgets.

These strategic and innovative partnerships can help increase awareness of available community contributors, tapping into resources that may have been otherwise overlooked. By meeting the community's needs, these partnerships foster a sense of shared responsibility and support.

Step 3: Collaborate with Other Schools and Systems

Explore opportunities for collaborative initiatives or events with other virtual, hybrid, or brick-and-mortar schools to pool resources, share best practices, and offer student support services at locations where meal services could also be available. By combining resources such as funds, personnel, and infrastructure, education leaders across schools and systems can have a more extensive impact, ultimately benefiting a larger number of students.

Taking It Forward

Although the example above specifically addresses student nutrition, the steps are just as applicable to other complex challenges facing school and system leaders. The questions below serve as a strategic guide for leaders when navigating how to holistically engage community partners such that all stakeholders are heard, amplified, and leveraged.

  1. Are there existing community resources, such as local businesses or nonprofits, that can be leveraged? Consider assessing the availability of external resources and potential partners within the community by creating a community map identifying the relevant local organizations.
  2. Are there joint initiatives or events that can be organized with other virtual, hybrid, or traditional schools to share resources and enhance the impact of programs? Virtual and hybrid schools can identify instances in which physical schools are underutilizing their facilities. Partnerships may be established to use these physical spaces during those times. Additionally, the option to bring together students from different schools at a shared physical location could be explored, particularly when offering the same or similar support services such as tutoring, mentorship, or after-school programs.
  3. How can schools and systems leverage the expertise of external organizations or consultants to assess and improve the feasibility of different programs? After outlining the problem and determining potential resource gaps, identify and engage organizations or consultants that have expertise in the specific area or a history of helping systems to solve complex problems.