Families & the Community Opinion

The Role of Community Organizations in Supporting Student Success

By Urban Education Contributor — August 13, 2018 4 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

This week we are hearing from The Urban Child Study Center at Georgia State University (@gsucehd). This post is by Nicole Patton Terry, former Director of The Urban Child Study Center and Professor at Florida State University.

Today’s post is written from the researcher perspective. Stay tuned: Thursday we will share the practitioner’s perspective on this topic.

Last week’s blog post discussed some important takeaways from the 2018 NNERPP Annual Forum, a yearly gathering of research-practice partnerships (RPPs) that are members of the National Network of Education Research-Practice Partnerships (NNERPP). From The Urban Child Study Center, a team of nine people attended the gathering, including myself. One important revelation that emerged over and over for us was just how diverse RPP teams can be, and how many roles are involved in the work. Beyond the “practitioner” and the “researcher,” many other partners play a critical role in the creation, implementation, and sustainability of an effective RPP. One such group, which is particularly relevant to us at the Urban Child Study Center, is “community organizations.” But just who are community organizations, what role do they play in RPPs, and how can we engage them in meaningful ways to support school success?

The Community Organization. Many RPPs focus their work on vulnerable student populations. Whether their difficulties are associated with poverty, language and cultural differences, learning disabilities, or challenging behavior, vulnerable students struggle to do well in school. For them, “it takes a village” isn’t a catch phrase. Vulnerable students often require wrap around supports and services to achieve success in school. Community organizations are active in providing those supports and services. Sometimes they are direct service providers, such as afterschool and summer program directors, early learning providers, pediatricians and nurse practitioners, and family literacy coaches. Sometimes they make sure the services are provided, such as advocacy groups, school boards, community centers, the mayor’s education office, and the state’s department of public health. More than a stakeholder, the work that these community organizations do has some bearing on student achievement above and beyond what is happening in classrooms and schools.

The Community Organization’s Role in an RPP. RPPs’ research activities focus not only on understanding who struggles in school and why, but also on determining what and how conditions can be created to promote student success. As active members of “the village”, community organizations often collaborate with schools and school districts to create those conditions. Many view themselves as partners who can contribute resources that schools might not otherwise have the opportunity to enjoy. For example, in an effort support STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math) learning among young children, Arts for Learning, Woodruff Arts Center, Fernbank Museum of Natural History, and Sheltering Arms Early Education and Family Centers partnered to implement PNC Grow Up Great Atlanta. Together, they brought visiting artists and scientists to early learning classrooms, helped teachers infuse science, arts, critical thinking, and inquiry into lessons, provided field trips and passes for teachers and families to visit the museum and theatre, and sent activities home for families.

Without a doubt, these partners sought to have a positive impact on student learning and providing these resources may well have improved school outcomes. However, if their partnership isn’t a part of the RPP’s research agenda and partnership activities, then the impact of their contributions to student success is lost. Not only is the researcher limited in his or her ability to discern what factors contribute to student outcomes (e.g., an unexpected increase in early math achievement or reading comprehension), but the practitioner (e.g., teachers and families with newfound comfort and interest in supporting STEAM at home and school) is limited in his or her ability to leverage these resources to promote learning and achievement. In contrast, actively partnering with community organizations allows RPPs to leverage the collective impact on student success.

At The Urban Child Study Center, we partner with community organizations in all of our RPP projects. Sometimes, the community partner comes to us, seeking support to evaluate a program, to connect with expertise amongst the university faculty, or to find an outlet for their resources. Sometimes, the school district or other partners introduce the community partner to us. In both cases, we seek to honor the community partner’s interests by learning what’s important to them, what they feel their most pressing issues are, and how they think we can work together to address their problems. In this way, community partners are similar to practitioner partners in an RPP. But there are key differences between community partners and schools and school districts that make their role unique in an RPP, and may require different strategies to elevate their added value to the team. In our next post, we’ll discuss the challenges to engaging community partners in RPPs and share ideas directly from our community partners on how to best do so.

Previous blog posts by The Urban Child Study Center:

Curious about other research topics partnerships have written about for this blog? See this Guide to the NNERPP EdWeek Blog for all previous blog posts organized by research topic area to easily find other posts of particular interest to you!

Photo: Unsplash

The opinions expressed in Urban Education Reform: Bridging Research and Practice are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Teaching Webinar
What’s Next for Teaching and Learning? Key Trends for the New School Year
The past 18 months changed the face of education forever, leaving teachers, students, and families to adapt to unprecedented challenges in teaching and learning. As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Curriculum Webinar
How Data and Digital Curriculum Can Drive Personalized Instruction
As we return from an abnormal year, it’s an educator’s top priority to make sure the lessons learned under adversity positively impact students during the new school year. Digital curriculum has emerged from the pandemic
Content provided by Kiddom
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Leadership for Racial Equity in Schools and Beyond
While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to reveal systemic racial disparities in educational opportunity, there are revelations to which we can and must respond. Through conscientious efforts, using an intentional focus on race, school leaders can
Content provided by Corwin

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Families & the Community Reported Essay Pandemic Parents Are More Engaged. How Can Schools Keep It Going?
Families have a better sense of what their child is learning, but schools will have to make some structural shifts to build on what they started.
6 min read
Conceptual Illustration
Pep Montserrat for Education Week
Families & the Community Opinion How to Preserve the Good Parts of Pandemic Schooling
Yes, there have been a few silver linings for student well-being in the pandemic. Let’s not lose them now, write two researchers.
Laura Clary & Tamar Mendelson
4 min read
A student and teacher communicate through a screen.
Families & the Community COVID Protocols Keep Changing. Here's How Schools Can Keep Parents in the Know
Parents and educators shared best practices for effective communication related to the pandemic. It all centers on transparency.
6 min read
communication information network 1264145800 b
Families & the Community Teachers' Union, Education Groups Unite to Resist Critical Race Theory Bans
Some of the country’s most prominent education groups are organizing against efforts to restrict teaching students about racism.
3 min read
Image of a "stop" hand overlaying a circle with a red diagonal line.
DigitalVision Vectors