Seven ways you can help support students and high schools in your community

Even if you're not an educator, parent, or student, you can still get involved and make an impact to high schools in your community. Here are seven ways you can do just that.

By Anne Mackinnon

You care about high schools and high school students, and you want to help. But what can you do? How can you help your local high school in a way that’s truly helpful and doesn’t just get in the way?

The first step is to expand your definition of what it means to help.

Great high schools are “porous,” meaning they have many connections between what happens inside the classroom and what happens in the community. If you’re part of the community, you can be one of those connections. That’s helping.

Students benefit when they have support in forming their identities and becoming the adults they want to be. When you offer students opportunities to learn about and explore possible futures for themselves, you’re helping more than you might imagine.

Great high schools are always improving. They’re constantly looking for better ways to prepare all their students for the changing world. If you have insights to share   as a parent, an employer, a community leader, or someone who just cares  share them. That’s helping, too.

Here are some ways to get started:

Be a good neighbor and introduce yourself

You may think of high school as a place with high walls and a guard at the door — a place where students stay in, and members of the community stay out. Increasingly, though, that’s not the case. At Furr High School in Houston, for example, students tend a community garden where local gardeners often stop by to say hello and share horticultural tips. Visit your local high school, and introduce yourself to the principal and teachers. Let them know you’re interested and open to their ideas about how you might be able to help.

Organize a back to school day for adults

A few years ago, community leaders in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, organized an event where adults shadowed students to see what a standard school day was really like. They were stunned by what they found: boredom, meaningless work, and an absence of real-world learning. This shared experience motivated members of the community to create Iowa BIG, a citywide initiative that connects students with learning opportunities that prepare them for the challenges of life and work.

Offer your expertise

High school is a time when students are thinking about their next step. But the truth is, very few students actually know much about careers beyond the jobs held by the adults who are closest to them. You can expand students’ horizons by sharing your job-related expertise. Offer to talk about your education and career with interested students. Be a guest speaker in a class, or offer to be an advisor, coach, and evaluator on a student project. You can even collaborate with high school educators to create an internship or work-based learning opportunities for students inside your organization.

Become a mentor

Nine out of ten high school freshmen say they plan to attend college, but many fewer actually get there. Somewhere along the way, the headwinds become too strong. Students get discouraged and drop out. They don’t take the right courses or earn the right grades. They let fears about college costs overwhelm them. Or they become discouraged by people who tell them they’re not “college material.” A mentor can help counteract these forces. The XQ College Pathfinder explains the path to college from a student’s perspective, but it’s just as useful for an adult who wants to help a student stay on the path. Read it, then offer to be a mentor by contacting your local high school or mentoring program.

Bring a problem that needs a solution

Sometimes the best way to help students is by asking them to help you with a problem you’re grappling within your organization, business, or community. That’s the premise behind several XQ schools, including Grand Rapids Public Museum High School, PSI High, the Bartleby Program, and Iowa BIG. Each involves students in solving problems that require research, sustained effort, original thinking, and teamwork. If you’re facing a tough challenge, consider bringing it to your local high school to see if students and teachers want to build a learning experience around it.

Make High School Part of Community Revitalization

Maybe you’re already working on a big solution to a community problem. If so, why shouldn’t high schools be part of it? High school students really do represent the future of your community. Students’ experience now will determine where they choose to live and work, how loyal they are to their hometown, and how committed they are to its future. That’s why, in Memphis, the designers of the Crosstown Concourse project have always imagined a high school at the center of the building. That’s why the superintendent and her team in Endicott, New York, created Tiger Ventures. If something forward-looking is happening in your town, be sure there’s a high school component.

Consider running for school board

Sounds hard, right? But, seriously, this is a great way to participate. Being a school board member is tremendously demanding, but it’s also hugely important and rewarding. A great school board member is the partner your local high school educators need, the advocate your local students deserve. Think about it. To learn more, check out the XQ Super School Board Program. Order Kit 1: Decide. Even if you ultimately decide it’s not for you, you’ll learn more about what a great school board can do to improve high schools and get ideas for how you can contribute.

Do any of these things, and you’ll be an advocate for high schools and high school students. Do you have other ideas? Please let us know, so we can share them.