Educating children is hard enough on its own, but it’s even harder when you teach in a high needs environment. Inner city teachers and administrators often complain about the obstacles and needs of their students and with good reason. Usually, those conversations go one of two directions: accepting that students will never have all of their needs met, or advocating for more money so the school can meet all the needs a student might have.
There will always be students that don’t have everything they need. I’ll never begrudge anyone for asking for more education funding, but there is another conclusion that resourceful schools have acknowledge. Community partners can provide a school and its students with many of the resources schools can’t provide themselves. In any city, there are numerous organizations that are not only able and willing, but in many cases required to help kids in need. Everything from food to clothes, to extracurricular programing, can be outsourced to community organizations that are set up specifically to meet those needs.
For example, many schools have invested a little money into having food on hand for families in need. While that is admirable, a school with limited resources and staff can never really be an efficient food bank. However, that’s okay because actual food banks exist all over town and are happy to help families. So too is the case with issues like medical care and holiday assistance. Schools need to be better about knowing these resources and referring families to them.
Community partnerships don’t have to stop at simply pointing a family in the right direction. Many organizations can partner with schools to bring their programming to the actual building. An outside organization runs before and aftercare in my school. Another group provides an afterschool extracurricular club. We also invite different community organizations to all of our school events to set up tables and meet families.
Some school districts such as Jefferson County Public Schools, have created dedicated positions in schools simply to foster better connections between families and resources. Such a position would obviously be ideal, but schools can still coordinate meetings between families and relevant organizations simply by knowing what is out there. Many teachers and administrators commute to the neighborhoods they work in and don’t realize what resources are available to their students. This is a failure of the school.
It is an unfortunate truth that schools barely have enough resources to effectively meet the educational needs of a student, let alone their holistic needs. They don’t have to accept defeat or pine for funding that will never come. They need to take inventory of their community’s resources and act as a liaison between those resources and their families.