Christine Powell, a special education teacher and Fulbright Distinguished Teaching Award recipient from California, is currently in Singapore learning about the education system.
I sat across the table from Wee Hoon, a teacher assigned to me during my six-week placement at a secondary school in Yishun, Singapore. Her responsibilities go beyond teaching subject-matter content. This afternoon she has the added responsibility of conducting a training session for students as they prepare to visit an assisted-living home located in their neighborhood. This activity is part of the compulsory community-integration component of Singaporean secondary students’ schedules. I have come to understand that Wee Hoon is part of a fraternity of educators and community stakeholders, a village of people working collaboratively to build bridges to connect the local schools to the broader community. In Singapore, a small village is known as a kampong, but the word means so much more.
I was first introduced to the term kampong when I visited a secondary school in another part of Singapore. The principal shared that the students attending the school were often low achievers academically and the mission of the school was to help them find their strengths. He spoke to me about his school having a kampong spirit: a welcoming attitude where the broader community is invited, urged, and cajoled to take an interest and establish relationships with students, parents, teachers, and educational leaders. As an American educator, I listened with rapt attention as the principal spoke about ties to the community and led me through classrooms transformed by local businesses into replicas of industry workspaces so students can learn the basics of vocational trades. We toured the roof garden where students tend plants, which on weekends is open as a community garden for parents to come and learn from their children. Once the spoils of their labor have been harvested, the community comes together to purchase the fruits and vegetables as a way of supporting the project. So it was on this occasion that I first heard the word kampong, as the principal talked about the culture on the campus, and the collective spirit that makes this school and so many others in Singapore a real community accomplishment.
Lessons for the U.S.
The term kampong is used to describe traditional villages in Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore. In a kampong, members are connected not only by proximity but by a shared identity of their community. They share the knowledge that belonging makes you a part of something bigger than yourself, and the obligation, whether external or internal, that compels you to take part in a shared experience. Singapore schools have made me realize that the spirit of kampong is not only beneficial for a school but also provides a source of pride in the community. Here are four ways that American educators can increase community engagement in their schools and enlist the support of stakeholders.
1. Shared Knowledge
In villages, there exists the opportunity to learn from one another. Often, Singaporean schools invite guest speakers to come to campus to share expertise and knowledge. This is an excellent way to connect students to individuals with valuable information. Students also have a tremendous amount to share and benefit from presenting to a broader audience. With assistance from staff, have students plan, orchestrate, and execute community-sharing events that touch on subjects they have experience with such as social-media pitfalls, how to deal with bullying, voices of student-athletes, etc. Tapping into community resources that inform members is a building block of security, which impacts well-being and creates channels for communication and sharing. Start small and ask for outside expertise from local Toastmaster groups and event coordinators to share ideas with students.
2. Networking Contacts
Who better to support the emerging talent being taught in our schools than community members who are part of the professional system? Networking is often cited as the way to gain entry into employment, and a school community provides a wealth of contacts who may be able to lend support and assistance. Arrange a space for professionals to connect with students, to read over students’ resumes and provide insight on what employers are looking for in new recruits, and to listen to student’s questions. Make school a place where contacts within the community are encouraged and supported.
3. Volunteer Experiences
Civic engagement builds healthy communities. There are opportunities for schools to impact agencies within a community that need man-hours and real live people. For example, schools can form partnerships with organizations that help with elder care and allow students to share the gift of their time to connect with someone. Nonprofit agencies benefit from unpaid internships, where students can gain experience and insight to help make informed career choices. Pet shelters, forestry services, community clean-ups, and assisting at the local library for school credit are ways schools can encourage students to get out and contribute in the broader community.
4. Share Successes
There is plenty of discussion around developing 21st-century skills in students, and the need to bolster communication skills in youths is often cited as a top need by employers. Schools and students are doing incredible things that often only get shared in a relatively small circle of individuals through social media or within a school itself. Extend the reach of promoting the good things taking place at your school through local news agencies, newspapers, radio, community clubs, and services. Have students refine their communication skills by interviewing their peers who have accomplished something notable and encourage media to highlight student awards and good deeds. Communities benefit from supporting individuals who are making a difference.
The mission of schools is to educate students in an effort to equip them with the skills and knowledge to participate in society. When it is understood that schools do not function in isolation but are part of the fabric of the town or district, it then becomes necessary to build bridges and encourage healthy and supportive interaction between students and stakeholders. Singapore is an example of a country promoting community engagement through school programs and activities, and the positive impact on school culture is evident. It takes a kampong to raise a child, and in the end, they both benefit.
Photo Credits: SPECTRA Secondary School, Singapore. Used with permission to publish.
Photo 1 Caption: SPECTRA secondary students working in the garden.
Photo 2 Caption: Culinary students at SPECTRA secondary school.
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