High schools should not be seen as a place where students are hidden away for six or seven hours a day. They need to be a vital part of the community in which they are based, and to use that community as a valuable resource for the education of its future citizens.
There are several ways that schools can make the most of local people and places. From developing close ties with businesses and media in the area, to investigating the nearby environment and historic landmarks, schools can build respect among students for the place where they live, while offering others in the community an opportunity to be fully supportive of their endeavours.
Students should have the chance to explore their environs. An examination of local creeks, parks, or forests will give them a chance to learn valuable lessons about natural resources, and also impress upon young people the impact that human presence can have on the environment. For science teachers, this presents a terrific alternative to regular classes on ecosystems or biology. Students may also be encouraged to contribute to the maintenance or beautification of these natural assets in their community by planting trees, developing gardens, or organising waste clean-ups.
Every town has its history. Students can find out where streets got their names, or trace the origins of historic buildings. Who are the people mentioned on statues or war memorials, and why might they be worth remembering? The importance of this is to help students recognize that the whole town or city is, in a very real sense, their home, and that they, too, have the chance to contribute to its development and history.
Although many schools may be reluctant to approach schools for sponsorship, businesses may be only too happy to offer financial support in return for little more than goodwill. Local business is also a great resource for providing real world experiences to older students, and schools should be prepared to seek out temporary work placements on behalf of students. Personnel from banks and other commercial enterprises may also be willing to help students learn some important lessons about personal finance or general economics.
Local newspapers and radio stations offer a chance for students to learn about the media while promoting the interests of their school. Try to organize a regular radio spot at a community or commercial station, or have students contribute articles and letters to local papers and magazines. If a school or its students are doing great things, these deserve to be shared with others in the community.
Arguably the most important resource in any community is the parents who send their children to the school. Too often, there appears to be a gulf between the time children spend at home and at school, but this doesn’t have to be the case. Rather than just rely on small groups of committed parents to help organise school functions and activities, use the skills and strengths of mums and dads whenever possible. Invite a few parents to be guest speakers, or enlist the help of talented home cooks to prepare and share healthy meals or run breakfast clubs. Parents may also be able to donate a little of their time to support remedial literacy or numeracy programmes.
It is of great importance that schools are seen as being an active part of their community. Students are a wonderful resource in their own right, and by conducting their learning with the help of local people and places, they have the chance to give back to their neighbors far more than they will ever need to take.