A school is in a unique position to not only bring community-members together, but to create community. I believe this because I have seen how community-integrated schools bring a community together and inspire civic engagement in students, which in turn, strengthens the community even more. There are many aspects of community and family involvement I could discuss, such as school events, opportunities for parent involvement, cross-cultural dynamics and more. For this blog post I would like to talk more about using the school to nurture and create community.
I witnessed an amazingly well executed community-building school in Costa Rica. The synergy between the school, parents, and greater community was such that the transition from school to after-school community life was seamless. Students got out of school at lunchtime and the school cafeteria (aka community kitchen), run by parents, served a meal for the greater community. Kids did not have to stay for lunch, but most did and sat alongside their teachers, farmers on break, school employees, elders out socializing, and town leaders, some of whom were their parents. After lunch, a community organizations or clubs would meet there and students would often stay to attend. Teachers gave school credit for participating in a community committee or becoming a town council member. It was fairly common for students as young as 12 to run for office or join community committees that used the school cafeteria. A community bank also operated out of the school, manned by students as part of an ongoing school project. It offered small loans to residents with eco-friendly entrepreneurial ideas. Administrative coordination, such garbage and maintenance were handled by parent-student committees. Disciplinary matters requiring more than teacher intervention were handled by a committee of parents who had been voted in along with the director and teacher.
This school was very effective at building and nurturing the parents and community, and in exchange, the community gave back a great deal to the school. The children were the ultimate beneficiaries of this. They were engaged, happy, and were learning applicable skills that also helped their family and community. Synergy at its finest.