Citation: Dean, M., & Huitt, W. (1999, August). Neighborhood and community. Valdosta, GA: Valdosta State University. Retrieved [date] from http://www.edpsycinteractive.org/topics/context/neighbor.html
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Educating a child takes cooperation and involvement from educators, parents, families, and the community. Everyone has heard the saying "It takes a village to raise a child." Research has shown the greater the family and community involvement in schools, the greater the students achievement (Niemiec, R., Sikorski, M., & Walberg, 1999).
Parent involvement is an important inluence on a childs school success (LaBahn, 1995), but today we are seeing an increasing number of children raised for some period of their childhood in less than ideal conditions. For example, in the United States at least one-fourth of children live with one parent and among African-Americans this figure increases to more than 55% (Edwards & Young, 1992). At least one in five children in the U.S. lives in a family with an income below poverty level and this rate doubles among African-Americans and Latinos (Edwards & Young , 1992). More and more mothers are working outside the home and that means that many parents cannot be as involved in their childs life as they should be.
The community has always been an important influence on children and youth, but even more assistance from the community is needed in order to ensure students success in academics as well as in life. According to Lewis and Morris (1998), research has shown that young people need and deserve five basics: a personal one-on-one relationship with a caring adult; a safe place to learn and grow; a healthy start and a healthy future; a marketable skill to use after graduation; and a chance to give back to peers and community (p. 34). With increased burden on families, communities are making a definite impact on children in a number of positive ways and community leaders continue to look for ways to impact schools and improve student achievement.
Adults other than a childs parents are taking on significant child rearing roles (Edwards & Young, 1992). For example, a program established in 1977 called Communities in Schools (CIS, 1998) aims to provide mentors and volunteers that can support to schools. CIS purpose is to connect needed community resources with schools to help young people learn, stay in school, and prepare for life. Their website provides information about the program and gives ways that communities and schools can come together. This program has reached over 500,000 young people and their families. According to the founder of CIS, the program exists in over 1,700 schools and "surrounds young people with "a community of tutors, mentors, health care providers, and career counselors - caring adults who can help..." (p.2).
Mentoring programs are one way community members can impact schools (National Mentory Programs, 1999). A mentor is an adult who assumes "quasi-parental roles as advisors and role models for young people to whom they are unrelated" (Hamilton & Hamilton, 1992). The Big Brothers Big Sisters organization was one of the first mentoring programs designed to provide children with a positive role model. Many school systems are currently starting up mentoring programs with much success. This is a step towards each child having a personal relationship with an adult who they can confide in. Mentoring programs should primarily concentrate on at-risk youths from single parent homes or an environment of poverty (Hamilton & Hamilton). One example of a successful program is found in the Charlotte, North Carolina school system where more than 900 volunteers spend time each week with students as mentors, tutors, and lunch buddies (Lewis & Morris, 1998). Adults who serve as mentors benefit from these programs by making a contribution to work with a single young person. It can give adults a chance to give back to their communities and increase their own sense of self worth (Hamilton & Hamilton). Adults who mentor may also inspire children to give their time to community service. An effective mentor should be committed, accepting, supportive, and a positive role model (Rowley, 1999).
Adults can volunteer their time and resources in ways other than serving as a mentor such as
Limited financial resources in many school systems increases the value of volunteers who can assist in a variety of ways.
Businesses are also forming partnerships with schools which benefits both parties involved. Businesses help ensure their future workforce will be well trained and possess skills needed to succeed in the workplace (Overman, 1999). Companies can get involved in school through career talks, career fairs, tours, internships, job shadowing, apprenticeship programs, and curriculum development. The business industry has complained for years that the schools were not teaching the right kinds of skills needed to succeed in the workplace. This gives business and industry the chance to get involved.
Much research has been conducted concerning how community involvement can contribute to achievement. The power of community involvement for improving learning can come from a number of different sources. According to Hatch (1998), "beyond changes in curriculum or improvements in self-esteem, meaningful community involvement sets in motion a chain of events that transforms the culture of the school and often the community that the school serves" (p. 16). Alliances between schools and communities can be formed in countless ways including issues such as school safety, after school programs, physical improvements, student health, literacy programs, and many other ways (Lewis & Morris, 1998).
How can schools get communities involved? Careful planning is an important component. Questionnaires and needs assessments given to teachers, parents, and community members may provide a starting point for determining where the needs are (Niemiec, R. , Sikorski, M., & Walberg, H., 1999). How each school may develop a plan is individual as each school and community has their own individual needs and priorities. Many times community involvement is just a matter of having staff members in the school who are willing to develop the plans and ask for assistance from community members. When educators are unsure how to proceed asking for opinions and assistance from the community can provide new ideas and positive outcomes (McPhee, 1995). McPhee has found that a community forum of open discussion can provide a "diversity of opinions and ideas" (p. 72).
As we enter a new century, schools and communities continue to search for ways to form alliances. Possibilities for alliances between schools and communities are limitless. When communities bond together to assist schools, we see many benefits for schools and communities and most importantly a brighter future for Americas youth.
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