Academic journal article School Community Journal

"Just One More Thing I Have to Do": School-Community Partnerships

Academic journal article School Community Journal

"Just One More Thing I Have to Do": School-Community Partnerships

Article excerpt

Introduction

Educating children brings together the work of families, communities, and schools. The confluence of these areas of a child's life is complex, and so delineating the responsibility and work of families, schools, and communities can be a complicated endeavor. When each can enhance the work of the others, all can thrive. School-community partnering activities can enhance the education of children, as well as the health of families and the vitality of communities (see, e.g., Bauch, 2001; Crowson & Boyd, 1993; Sanders, 2001, 2003; Sanders & Harvey 2002). School-community partnerships can benefit rural communities in important ways, especially through enhancing the well-being of children and families (Barley & Beesley, 2007; Semke & Sheridan, 2012; Witte & Sheridan, 2011). This study explores the connections that exist between a small, rural elementary school and its local community by examining the following research questions:

1. How do school administrators, teachers, parents, and community members conceptualize school-community relationships?

2. What school-community partnerships exist, and what types are desired from the school and community?

Defining Terms: Community and Partnering

This study relies on a definition of community derived from The Community in America (Warren, 1978). Warren conceptualized communities as social systems and emphasized the connections within and between these systems: "A particularly important point is the nature of the systemic linkage between various community-based units and their respective extracommunity social systems" (Warren, 1978, p. 51). Warren referred to the links to the extracommunity social systems as vertical ties, while the links within the local community are called horizontal ties. This study examines the ties of one elementary school in a small village.

Partnering activities are defined broadly in this study, using the following concepts. In Learning Together: A Look at 20 School-Community Initiatives, which was prepared by the Institute for Educational Leadership and the National Center for Community Education, Melaville (1998) offered the following definition of initiatives: "intentional efforts to create and sustain relationships among a K-12 school or school district and a variety of both formal and informal organizations and institutions in the community" (p. 6). This definition emphasizes the relationships between organizations rather than the goals or activities of partnering. Bauch (2001) also used a broad definition focusing on the relationship at hand: "Partnerships are built on social interaction, mutual trust, and relationships that promote agency within a community" (p. 205).

Literature Review on School-Community Partnerships: Goals and Motivations

The literature on school-community partnerships illustrates the social problems that inhibit the work of the school and suggests these can be ameliorated through partnering with social services agencies and community organizations (e.g., Crowson & Boyd, 1993; Heath & McLaughlin, 1987; Sanders, 2001). In other words, there are so many pressures on schools, students, and families that schools cannot single-handedly do the job of educating children, but can maximize their efforts by reaching beyond their walls and partnering with other organizations to best serve the needs of children. Epstein (2011) described the potential perspectives on the responsibilities among families, communities, and schools as separate, shared, or sequential. Her theory of overlapping spheres of influence places the shared responsibilities perspective on the relationships. While the activities of families, schools, and communities are distinct and different, when they are shared and supportive in their goals, the boundaries among these arenas of children's lives become more fluid and permeable.

While academic achievement can be understood as the focus of schools, it is not the dominant reason for partnering according to the literature. …

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