Target 4 – Engaged Community Partners. FWSU staff and students will collaborate, innovate, create and conceptualize ideas and learning with local, regional, state, and global partners to make a difference in their community, state, and world.
Action Steps – (1) Plan and manage instruction around problems relevant to students and their community and develop solutions for authentic audiences. (2) Engage community partners in a focused collaborative inquiry process. (3) Develop partnerships with global partners to carry out a project related to units of study.
Indicators of Success – (1) Learning outcomes will be expanded to encourage curiosity, communication, and digital citizenry. (2) Students challenge convention and make contributions in their community, state, and world. (3) Collaborative student projects/partnerships become part of the fabric of the broader community. (4) Students are engaged with local resources and create community learning “labs” based on projects.
Community Time is a weekly component of the fifth and sixth grade curriculum at the Fletcher Elementary School. Based on the FWSU Action Plan’s call for an increased interconnectedness between schools and local partners, Community Time pairs many generous and talented regional experts with students to teach both social and academic skills.
“The value of having community members come into the classroom is about building relationships, connecting to the curriculum, and learning social skills,” 5/6 teacher Jasmine Tremblay said. “It’s real-world, real-life and authentic learning.”
Community Time takes place every Friday, for one hour. Recent guests have included an architect, cranberry producer, mountaineer, wildlife manager, entertainer, school banking coordinator, wildlife guide, and outdoor clothing designers. All guests volunteered their time.
“By seeing and hearing from a variety of people it not only gives the community a chance to share their expertise with our students, but it also give us a chance to inform the public about everything that is happening here at school. These students are learning in new and different ways that make sense for them as individuals,” 5/6 teacher Tracey Godin said.
Each speaker offers students knowledge in a particular area, but learning the skills of public speaking and listening are a common thread that run through each presentation and are very intentionally discussed both during and after each session, often with the presenters. The guests are invited to give feedback to the students about their behavior as audience members and students let the experts know what they appreciated most about the presentations. They are encouraged to formulate thoughtful questions and articulate what they have learned.
“If you want to be successful at what they are doing you have to listen,” fifth grader Adam Packard said. “That’s the only way to know what to do.”
Just as the community experts donate their time, the teaching team of Tremblay and Godin encourage students to put others first in an effort to create not only a caring classroom community, but in an effort to prepare students for respectful, productive citizenship in their larger community. Next week, students will host several area elderly for singing and food. They have also made scarves, cards, and ornaments for their guests.
“They are doing this instead of having a classroom celebration for themselves,” Tremblay said. “We have very respectful young adolescents and they’re going to leave a legacy of caring.”
Speakers also focus on leadership and teamwork, two themes that the teachers have infused across the curriculum this year. According to Tremblay, students are frequently asked to examine the impact their decisions have on others, both in the classroom and outside of school.
“It’s easy for kids to get focused solely on themselves,” Godin said. “This is an opportunity for them to consider how they impact everything around them, both here and in the bigger world. These skills will carry them right through adulthood.”
“I really like Community Time,” fifth grader Matthew Spiller said. “It gives us an understanding of the world around us and the amazing things that are going on in people’s’ lives.”
“Community Time gives us a chance to talk to some awesome people right here in the Fletcher community,” fifth grader Gracie Clark said. “I have learned about cranberry farming, that Mabel’s dad is an awesome architect, and that Brody’s dad is a great mountain climber. And I learned that I could do all of that, too.”
“I like community Time because we get to go deeper into things we don’t know about and explore things we don’t know,” fifth grader Mabel Osgood said.
Community partners are equally as excited about the joint venture.
“Projects like this allow kids to have a better understanding of the world around them, from a local business, to the supply chain that feeds that business, that then spans across the globe,” said Jeff Yeager, of Burton Snowboards, one of the classes’ recent guests. “Having these opportunities provides ideas and big thinking that will impact students for the rest of their lives…A project like this is great because it allows students to realize that it takes a team to make everything around you, and if you have a passion for something chances are you can find a way to turn that passion into a career.”
“There are so many cool jobs right here in Vermont,” fifth grader Lane Stygles said. “It all sounds like so much fun to me.”
According to a 2003 study on the connectedness of schools, families and communities by the National Center for Family and Community Connections with Schools, students with strong connections to their community participate in less unhealthy risk-taking behavior and do better in school. Read the full study here.