Q&A: School and Community Partnerships
Author: Marshall Snedaker
March 16, 2016
Orchards Elementary is a sixth-year Leader in Me School in Lewiston, Idaho. Throughout those years, Principal Kristy Brinkerhoff and her staff have worked intentionally and diligently to make their school a place where students’ basic needs are met and where they become leaders.
But they didn’t do it on their own. They have developed great relationships with leaders and organizations in their community, particularly the Community Action Partnership (CAP).
Angie Titus is the Community Engagement Director of the Community Action Partnership. She and Principal Brinkerhoff have worked together to create a mutually beneficial relationship for the school and for the community.
We talked with both of them, and they shared their thoughts on the process and importance of school-and-community partnerships.
Kristy Brinkerhoff, Principal, Orchards Elementary
Q: Why do you feel it mattered to reach out to the community?
I’ve always had this unanswered question: “How is it that schools are so strapped for funding and support when there is such a wealth of resources; not necessarily money, but resources within the community?” There are people out there who have a ton of things that schools need. There are so many things we have been able to do differently at Orchards with the funding and the resources that have come through our community partnerships.
Q: What did you do to reach out to your community members?
We’ve done a tremendous job of opening the doors of our school and making it welcoming to parents, families, and community members. We’re intentional about being transparent. We’ve also always invited community leaders to come to our Leadership Day.
Q: How did your partnership with CAP start?
Angie Titus, who was the community engagement director of Community Action Partnership, came to one of our Leadership Days. She stayed for the Q&A, and at the end, she stood up and said, “I want to help. How can I be a part of this?” We talked briefly, but there wasn’t a system in place. She later went to my superintendent and said, “I really want to work with Orchards Elementary. How do we make this happen?”
That first year, CAP received a Regence Blue Shield of Idaho grant that allowed us to provide additional training for our staff not only in the 7 Habits, but also with regard to some poverty and cultural challenges our families were dealing with and allowed us to access some of the resources through CAP. Then she wrote other grants to help us get funding for other resources.
Q: What was the goal of your relationship with CAP?
When Angie and I first started working together, we envisioned a three-tier model that would start in the school and then transfer home to the parents and then move out to the community. Of course, as a Leader in Me School, we teach the 7 Habits. We have really reached out to parents through partnerships with Community Action to provide ongoing training.
Q: How has the partnership affected the students?
Beyond providing resources for our school and our families, our students are becoming more involved in the community. Every classroom is committed to doing two community-service projects that had to be student-originated, student-managed, even to the point to where our kids were the ones calling the community-volunteer service programs.
Students are kids; their future to them is just what’s coming the next day. They couldn’t see outside of that, and now they can. There is a lot of research on social capital and cultural capital, and we’re providing both for our kids because of our connection to the community. They are mingling with and shaking the hands of community leaders that they probably would have never come in contact with. They’re experiencing things that they might not have had the opportunity to experience, at least until they were in high school and beyond.
Q: What advice would you give to other schools looking to partner with community members and organizations?
First and foremost, be patient. This doesn’t happen overnight. You don’t just decide to be a Leader in Me School and then you’re where we have landed. It really does take hard work, but it’s the right work.
I would say the other piece would be focus on your Circle of Influence. We’ve utilized our existing relationships. There has to be intentionality about reaching out to those agencies and building those relationships, and putting systems in place, where it becomes sustainable.
Angie Titus, Community Engagement Director, Community Action Partnership
Q: What caused you to focus and pursue such a deep partnership with Orchards Elementary?
The biggest piece is willingness. As we would come to the table with opportunities, they would be diligent and consistently show up again at the table. They truly wanted to have these opportunities available for their families as well.
Q: How have you used your network of connections to help Orchards Elementary meet the needs of their students and families?
I think one of the biggest things we do is help people create systems change and open up partnerships that plug in people who want to be more involved in the things that they can immediately make a difference in. We were able to work with a nonprofit organization in the community and talk to them about the school and find out what resources they had available. They shared with us some of the things they would love to help with, and we set up a clothing closet. They provide the space for the clothing, and then we connected with another nonprofit organization to help fill the closet.
Q: What has been the biggest benefit of this partnership for your organization?
I would think the biggest thing is it has changed our paradigm in how we serve people, especially young families. We have learned that offering resources in a more relational come-and-go format works better for young families, instead of our class-based approach. It’s also helped us see a better future for schools and to understand the hurdles schools have to go through and understand where there are opportunities for us to help.
Q: What do you think about teaching leadership to young children?
I think it’s a great. I’d say the biggest return on investment is actually having them be able to implement those skills. We’d love to be able to carry that out in the junior high and high schools as well. I think that’s just a great way to start a good, solid foundation for them.
Q: Why has your role as a community organization been important to the school?
It really does take a whole community to impact change and to impact and support those families’ needs.
Click here for another blog post about Orchards Elementary and some of the specific projects they’ve been able to accomplish through their partnership with CAP.