Community Partners: Helping with the Solution

by Matt Robinson

In two recent conversations with teachers about to start service-learning projects with their students, I was asked the same question. One teaches urban secondary students, the other rural elementary students. Since two individuals in different situations had the same question, and because the question relates to an issue on which community partners are a big help, I bring it to this space because many of you are either community partners or you work directly with those who are community partners for service-learning projects.

In earlier posts, I have stressed the value of community partners. Remember, one of the eight Quality Standards for Service-Learning projects is Partnerships. From the Quality Standards for Service-Learning: “Service-learning partnerships are collaborative, mutually beneficial, and address community needs.”

Indicators are as follows:

1) Service-learning involves a variety of partners, including youth, educators, families, community members, community-based organizations, and/or businesses.
2) Service-learning partnerships are characterized by frequent and regular communication to keep all partners well-informed about activities and progress.
3) Service-learning partners collaborate to establish a shared vision and set common goals to address community needs.
4) Service-learning partners collaboratively develop and implement action plans to meet specified goals.
5) Service-learning partners share knowledge and understanding of school and community assets and needs and view each other as valued resources.

An aside: keep these indicators handy! They are a wonderful resource to use to reflect on your practice.

Back to the teachers’ questions: both teachers are wondering about the stage of the service-learning process when students identify and research solutions in preparation for selecting a solution(s) to impact the community problem or need. Basically, they asked, “What do I do if my students choose to do something that I don’t think we can do?”

Sure, that is a big question. It has some important assumptions and it begs follow up questions. But while there are many strategies for helping students to select solutions, discussion of those strategies could fill a good many blog posts. I want to call attention to, as Indicator Four from the list above suggests, help from community partners in this process.

As individuals who are engaged with the problems and needs related to the project on a day-to-day basis, community partners’ input brings authenticity and realism. They should—as Indicator Four implies—be a part of the process of identifying and selecting the solutions.

In practice, participating in the process of identifying and selecting actions with students can take many different forms. A couple of ideas:

1. Community partners can provide samples of criteria for a solution—just a few guidelines drawn from their experience for students to consider as they brainstorm.

2. If schedules allow, students can host a “solutions fair” at which they present their in-process ideas to their community partners who then to provide some objective feedback.

Community Partners play a vital role in service-learning experiences from beginning to end, and the stages of identifying, researching and selecting solutions are no exception.

Review the Quality Standards for Service-Learning, especially the standard on Partnerships and get ready to share your knowledge and experience as you help youth to help the community.

Matt Robinson is a Featured Blogger and an education consultant with KIDS Consortium.

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