What would you say if I told you there was a way to improve your district’s test scores, attendance, discipline issues and more in one fell swoop? You’d be interested, but a little leery, too. Now, if I said that the way to reach these goals had nothing to do with your District’s academics, nothing to do with NCLB, and nothing to do with the majority of issues you spend your time worrying about, you’d think you were right to be skeptical.
But, it’s true.
Without further delay, I’ll let you in on the secret. It’s called community building. Simply put, it is making connections in your district, such as from students to teachers, students to other students and families to schools.
Now just because you’ve heard of this before, and probably even practice some aspects of it, don’t dismiss it as something you already do.
While at the American Association of School Administrators annual show in February, I sat in on a session led by Eric Schaps, founder and president of the Development Studies Center in Oakland.
Schaps’ non-profit group has spent years surveying thousands of school children. It has found that as many as half of the children in any school feel that it is impersonal, unsafe or separate from “real life.” By strengthening the children’s connection to their school, research shows a host of educational benefits, including higher grades in core subjects and on achievement tests, more respect for teachers and greater academic aspirations.
Even small advancements in how kids feel about their school can make a big difference in student performance, Schaps said.
The center has created a Caring School Community program that emphasizes four key components in connecting the school, classroom and home. The four parts are: class meetings where students can be involved in everything from planning a curriculum unit to preparing for a substitute; buddy programs that pair younger and older students together on academic projects; activities that require students and parents to collaborate; and school-wide non-competitive activities.
Summing up the session, and providing food for thought, AASA’s Executive Director Paul Houston said that with all the talk in Washington, D.C., about school reform, it’s amazing “how little [this discussion] has to do with anything important.”