Put the Public Back into Education

Put the Public Back into Education

In K-12 schools, parents and grandparents frequently volunteer as chaperones, class parents, or mystery readers. These interactions allow children to see adults support their education and allow adults to stay connected to their learners’ school experience, according to Forbes.

More substantive school-community relationships can boost student outcomes, invigorate instruction, and benefit the entire community.

CommunityShare is an interesting nonprofit organization that has found a way to promote vibrant educational experiences by connecting students and educators to the skills, knowledge, and life experiences of community members.

Josh Schachter, CommunityShare founder and Executive Director, has spent 25+ years as an educator and collaborator on community-based media projects in places ranging from New Delhi to Nigeria. But every time he left a school or program, so did all his connections. Schachter saw the need to connect students and educators to a broader network of connections in a more systemic and sustainable way.

Founded in 2015 in Tucson, Arizona, CommunityShare aims to reimagine the relationship between schools and communities. Through CommunityShare, teachers and community partners, from artists to astronauts, co-design enriched learning projects that tap into students’ creativity, cultivate real-world skills, and expose students to available community assets.

Describing CommunityShare’s approach, Schachter speaks about creating a “human library of wisdom, skills, and lived experience.” CommunityShare’s model “re-imagines our communities as learning ecosystems where community members offer their unique experience in the form of social, cultural, creative and intellectual capital to students and educators,” he shares.

The Learning Policy Institute and the National Education Policy Center affirm the value of Community Schools and enrichment activities that “emphasize real-world learning and community problem solving.” CommunityShare takes these activities from enrichment to enriched instruction.

Enriched, interdisciplinary instruction looks like kindergarteners seeing their own lives and families represented in books while building literacy and storytelling skills with community-based Navajo author Daniel Vandever. Or middle schoolers working with artist Sarah Howard to study the moon and talk through their 3D models of sustainable cities on the moon with astronaut and Senator Mark Kelly. Or Artist Kate Hodges co-teaching Arizona history by “connecting students’ family histories to Arizona’s roots through ceramics, oral history, and music.”

CommunityShare’s Schachter speaks of civic engagement and sharing gifts to something bigger than yourself “in service of learning and in service of the vitality of the community.”

How does it work? CommunityShare’s digital platform, or human library, matches PK-12 educators in schools and out-of-school settings with community partners–STEM professionals, artists, entrepreneurs, nonprofits, families, and more. Educators post projects and the platform finds community partners whose real-world experiences match the project request. Community partners serve as mentors, project collaborators, content advisors, internship hosts, and more.

CommunityShare currently serves thousands of PreK-12 students in seven states by partnering with regional education organizations that become members of CommunityShare’s national network.

Collaboration promotes a shift in teacher practice and mindset. As one CommunityShare educator fellow stated, “I can bring experts into the classroom that have knowledge I don’t have. It has expanded program capacities and given my students access to knowledge that I wouldn’t be able to otherwise provide.”

Well-designed community-school partnerships can help students stay in school and promote workforce skills. Schools often invite the community inside their doors, but community members may be unsure how to meaningfully engage. With intentional collaboration, educators, parents, and experts across fields can play a role in community-enriched educational experiences.


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