Families & the Community Opinion

The Role of Community Organizations in Supporting Student Success

By Urban Education Contributor — August 13, 2018 4 min read
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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!

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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.