5 Ways to Engage Community Partners

Imagine if your students could learn about ecology by gardening alongside local experts. Or what…

By Anna Sudderth

Imagine if your students could learn about ecology by gardening alongside local experts. Or what if they could study architecture with an internship at a professional design firm? As these examples show, powerful resources for meaningful, engaged learning lie just outside the walls of the classroom and in the community. 

Hands-on community involvement empowers students as citizens, makes learning meaningful, and helps develop crucial skills for success after high school. That’s why community partnerships are one of XQ’s six core design principles. This week, we’ll explore how to unlock opportunities for your students by partnering with your community. And we’ll be focusing on this topic all month on our blog and social

Ready? Give me five!

Be intentional about forming partnerships that benefit both your students and the community.

Why It Matters: Iowa BIG, an XQ school in Cedar Rapids, IA, was founded with community partnerships at their core. Community organizations come to Iowa BIG with “initiatives” based on real challenges, and students learn by working alongside the organizations to address these challenges. After 10 years of this model, school co-founder Trace Pickering has some advice for how to set community partnerships up for success: 

  • Projects should be ‘real’ for both students and partner organizations, with benefits for both
  • Pair students with community initiatives that are “nice-to-have,” but not crucial, in case students run into issues and areas for growth
  • Work with partners to develop projects that appeal to students and map onto learning goals

Extra Credit: School-Community Partnerships – The Aspen Institute

Connect your students to a network of caring, supportive adults.

Why It Matters: Leverage community expertise by facilitating mentorships for your students. Mentors can serve as professional resources, academic supports, role models, and encouragers for students. To set up mentorships that are meaningful and effective, check out this step-by-step guide from MENTOR on how to approach:   

  • Recruitment
  • Screening
  • Training
  • Matching and Initiating
  • Monitoring and Support
  • Closure

Extra Credit: Setting Up a Mentoring Program to Encourage Students

High schools often don’t do enough to prepare students for college. Community partnerships can change that. 

Why It Matters: What better way to prepare high school students for college than by partnering with colleges themselves? That’s the philosophy behind the partnership between Columbus State Community College and seven central Ohio school districts, which aims to close equity gaps and support students’ college and career prospects. This partnership includes:

  • Professional development for both high school and college faculty to foster collaboration
  • Curriculum reform and development around identified college preparatory pathways
  • Giving students the opportunity to earn college credit in high school

Extra Credit: This Indiana High School is Closing the College Access Gap

When students get to work in the “real world” alongside the community, they see that their thoughts, actions, and voices have real value. 

Why It Matters: When professionals at Alliance Healthcare Services in Memphis, TN came to Crosstown High students with a challenge—that many young people with mental health issues suffer from loneliness at school—students sprang into action to create a peer counseling program. In doing so, they saw how their work could make a real difference in people’s lives. Consider how you can help students create meaningful community change: 

  • Ask your students what issues they’re passionate about in their community
  • Connect students with community experts related to their interests
  • Provide opportunities for students to communicate their work to community members to see its real-world impact

Extra Credit: Schools Must Connect Learning to Real-World Experience. Service Learning Can Help. 

What student doesn’t want to gain vital work experience—and potentially get paid for doing it?

Why It Matters: Internships build crucial confidence and career experience, but many high schoolers aren’t sure how to find one on their own. As a teacher, you can help students identify, prepare for, and excel at internships—and advocate for them to be compensated for their work! Take these steps to facilitate positive internship experiences:

  • Prepare students with skills that will make them competitive for paid internship opportunities, like interviewing 
  • Seek out businesses and nonprofits that have an interest in empowering young people
  • Reach out to form personal relationships potential internship opportunities

Extra Credit: How to get the most out of student internships

We are proud to announce the launch of DC+XQ, our partnership with DC Public Schools to rethink the high school experience so that every DCPS high school student graduates ready to succeed in life.

DC+XQ is a districtwide, community-led initiative that invites students, educators, families, and community partners to come together to submit bold ideas for the future of high school.

Learn more about how this district is taking on high school transformation at DCXQ.us. And if you’re reading this from DC, join a team!