Saturday, January 28, 2023

Community Connections Matter


by Jessica Hanvey

LFKS Conference Chairperson


It has never been more apparent to me, as a long-time educator, the urgency of making the school and community connection.  After the struggles of 2020, educators and students proved to be resilient, digging to the depths of our professional being in order to meet demands of our society. It is noteworthy, at a minimum, how we responded then and are still grinding ahead today. We need to tell our story outside the building.

In much of our state, we are operating with less. Staff shortages might be the worst that many of us have ever experienced.  We are more prescriptive in our approach to meeting the academic and social needs of kids, but lack the human resources to yield results at the highest potential level.  How does our community fit in the equation?  Our survival depends on it. 

The community is the “why.”  Why should we get involved? Why should we commit our personal time and money? Why do soft skills matter? Who are we preparing our students to serve? How can we increase our capacity to utilize our students as our own resources? 

As a result of our current staff shortage, I reached out to our high school future educators instructor to see if we could engage her students  in live classroom experiences. Two future educators walked through my classroom door, did on the job training, and were a wonderful resource to have for sixty minutes. They also have developed rapport with staff, as well as loaded their toolbox with hands-on skills to succeed in class.

A developed relationship between school and community creates ownership.  When employees and every day citizens have an iron in the fire, everything matters more.  Will these students be on a pathway where they are student interns at our businesses beginning as early as middle school?  Will we have the opportunity to grow our own employees from the ground up?  Furthermore, will we have built a valuable enough bond to bring our students back to our community post secondary education? Creating an atmosphere where students feel compelled to “give back” is the goal.

 As a second grade teacher, I’ve witnessed firsthand the value of these connections being created. A few of my students have developed a relationship with a local farmer as a result of opportunities we’ve been intentional to create.  I envision them as his future employees. What a rewarding experience to watch them engage in soft starts by bringing farm equipment to use to plow fields and harvest crops.  In addition, what a valuable resource our farmer has been to serve on our local school board. 

We sure should aim to build pride in who we’re working together to develop. Our citizens and local businesses have potential to be our best recruitment and retention tool.  The way that they project what we are accomplishing in our school impacts our success.  Connections outside the school walls should begin early and expand over time.  Once community stakeholders feel the connection and have a purpose, the process takes care of itself.  

Jessica Hanvey is the 2023 LFKS Conference Chairperson and teaches in USD 382 Pratt School District.