Partnering with universities

I have just returned from the annual Coalition for Community Schools conference – an inspiring 3 day gathering of coordinators, directors, principals and researchers all invested in the idea that if we can organize all of a community’s resources around student success and lifelong learning, we will foster more vibrant and engaged students and communities.  One of the strong themes at this conference was the role that the university can play not only in supporting student learning, but also in facilitating opportunities to connect students with community partners.  The university-assisted community school model is spreading fast across the US and a strong feature of this program is community based service learning.

The Netter Centre for Community Partnerships spearheaded the mission to integrate university services with schools and community more than 25 years ago, and now they offer more than 75 different Academically Based Community Service courses for undergraduate students to connect with local schools and community partners.  In many cases, these projects involve undergraduate and primary/secondary students doing service-learning projects elbow-to-elbow in the community.

A great example of this is the Urban Nutrition Initiative, a program run out of UPenn that involves university students partnering with local high school and elementary students to build community gardens and then to harvest and provide produce to more than 10,000 students and their families in 20 under-served public schools in Philadelphia.  The UNI leverages the resources that the university can provide (knowledgeable undergraduate interns, financial resources, and teaching staff to co-develop educational programming with school teachers) to involve youth, seniors and other community members in the creation of sustainable food sources in inner city areas.  The internship program pairs undergraduate students with high school students to empower teens to explore and identify solutions to health disparities, promote healthy lifestyles through cooking classes, tending the gardens and operating produce stands at the local farmer’s markets.

In Montreal, our two English universities have community outreach centres, designated to put community partners in touch with the university, and to provide opportunities for university students to “give back” to their community.  McGill University’s Community Action Toolkit provides opportunities for undergraduate students to volunteer in a variety of community settings.  Many of these are schools, some in our CLC network!   Their homework zone programs and family spaghetti nights have enjoyed successful partnerships with the Riverview Elementary CLC for several years.  For more information on the CAT contact Anurag Dhir.

The potential that these collaborations have to support CBSL in our network is huge!   Concordia’s City Farm School has been partnering for several years with elementary schools in the Montreal areas to support their gardens.  Previously, we have partnered with the CFS to bring the Back-to-the-Roots program to our network via VC.  Concordia University recently opened the Office for Community Engagement as part of its commitment to collaborating with community partners.  If you need inspiration or help from a university partner, why not start there?  For more information, contact Eryn Fitzgerald, Community Relations Coordinator.