How School and Community Partnerships Enhance Student Learning

A high school student meets with a mentor.

Partnerships between schools and community groups offer a clear benefit: They enhance learning opportunities by providing students with resources, experiences, and environments they would not otherwise have. More specifically, they contribute to better student outcomes in the form of higher grades, better attendance, and increased motivation, according to Safe Supportive Learning.

What Are Community Partnerships?

Community partnerships are relationships that schools form with outside organizations to provide programs or services that supplement students’ school experience. Such partnerships commonly take the form of after-school, extended-day, and summer programs. The services they provide focus on such areas as academic study, career apprenticeships and mentoring, community service, health and nutrition, arts, sports, and various types of counseling.

Benefits of School and Community Partnerships

Schools and community groups form partnerships to serve a shared goal of helping students. Effective partnerships achieve that goal by creating programs that expand a school’s presence in the community and giving students greater access to resources outside of the classroom.

Advantages for Students

Community partnerships provide direct benefits to students:

  • Creating or enhancing learning opportunities. Programs often focus on areas such as professional development that schools have limited resources to address.
  • Providing safe environments with adult supervision. Having a safe place to go outside of school can be particularly beneficial for students whose parents are away from home for long periods due to job responsibilities.
  • Offering opportunities or resources that students might not access on their own. Programs might provide opportunities to visit museums or utilize fitness centers, for example.
  • Providing bilingual resources, education support programs, and staff. Schools often lack adequate resources to help immigrant or non-English-speaking families.
  • Giving students additional opportunities to excel in an area of interest. A community organization might offer a music program that its partner school cannot, for example.

Advantages for Schools

Schools use partnerships to gain resources that expand their capabilities and enhance students’ learning opportunities:

  • Extending the learning day or year. After-school programs provide additional opportunities for students to do homework or receive tutoring, and summer programs provide a smoother transition to the full academic year.
  • Providing bridges to local governments, businesses, and universities. Nonprofit community organizations often draw upon private and public sector resources that are beneficial to K-12 schools.
  • Generating engagement and excitement. Community programs and schools can codevelop programs and activities that supplement and reinforce school lessons but take place in an environment that is more social and relaxed than the classroom.
  • Creating opportunities for further instruction. Teachers can enlist the help of program workers to extend specific academic lessons or address behavioral issues.
  • Building bridges between schools and families. Community program workers sometimes act as liaisons, providing families with an introduction to school educators, administrators, and staff that can be less intimidating for a parent than initiating direct communication with a teacher or principal.
  • Raising the school’s profile in the community. Community organization events that are cosponsored by the school can open new lines of communication between educators and parents and build goodwill in the community.

The benefits of school-community partnerships are not limited to students and schools. By partnering with schools, community groups gain access to the young people they want to help. Partnerships also provide professional development opportunities for community organization workers by giving them opportunities to learn from experienced professional educators.

Forming Effective School and Community Partnerships

Partnerships between schools and community groups require input and cooperation from many stakeholders, including school and district officials, teachers, and parents. Careful preparation and planning can help education leaders attain early buy-in when attempting to create or expand community partnerships:

  • Gauge school interest. Before soliciting or committing to program funding, engage all stakeholders in discussions centered around school and student needs.
  • Articulate connections to school and student goals. Explaining not only the benefits of a program but the direct contributions it can make to curricular objectives is crucial for gaining support.
  • Visit other programs. When possible, perform site visits to observe similar programs at other schools and interview school leaders, students, and parents to gain insight into a program’s value.
  • Collaborate on developing a program’s mission, vision, and goals. This can help ensure curricular alignment and continuity between the school and community organization in regard to pedagogies, educational philosophies, values, and discipline.
  • Foster close relationships and regular communication. Collaboration between educators and community organization staff promotes consistency and continuity between classrooms and outside programs.

Community organizations play an important role in extending educational resources, providing vocational development, and providing safe places for students to enjoy activities and social events. When their services are closely aligned with the purpose of schools and educators, they can contribute to better student outcomes.

Creating Stronger Education Networks

Education leaders have the skills to develop relationships with community organizations and the knowledge to form partnerships that enhance learning. Mills College’s online Master of Arts in Educational Leadership program develops graduates who understand the impact that schools have on communities, as well as the role that community stakeholders can play in addressing conditions that affect learning.

Promoting awareness of diverse populations inside and outside of educational environments, Mills prepares graduates to overcome educational and social challenges with collaborative solutions. Teachers interested in building coalitions and developing other educational leadership skills can visit Mills College’s online Master of Arts in Educational Leadership program to learn more.

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Expanded Learning and Afterschool Project, “School-Community Learning Partnerships: Essential to Expanded Learning Success”

National Center on Safe Supportive Learning Environments, "Family-School-Community Partnerships"

National Education Association, “Community Partnerships Critical to Strong Public Schools”