Strength in Numbers

Connect with the community through partnerships.

It began with a child who needed new shoes. Shortly after becoming principal at a school in an impoverished area, I received a call from an employee of the Avery Dennison Corp. Her friend was doing field work at my site for an education class and noticed that a first grader's shoes were falling apart. The caller asked if she could buy shoes for the child, and she also wanted to talk about other ways the company could help.

This was the start of a lengthy partnership. Twice a year, every student received a full set of school supplies. Company employees wielded paintbrushes and brooms during semiannual community clean-up days. Some tutored students in the homework help program. Others worked with the community liaison to ensure that the neediest families had food, clothing, and gifts during holiday seasons.

Avery Dennison asked for nothing in return, but partnerships are based on give and take. We found ways the students could give something back. Children made decorations for the company's quarterly meetings, and the small school chorus performed for the meetings' attendees. When the corporate offices moved into a new facility, the art class painted a mural for the reception area.

This successful partnership led staff to seek out additional relationships with local businesses and public service agencies. We eventually formed a collaborative that provided medical and dental screenings, counseling, adult education, and other social services. Some partners contributed materials and supplies. Exchanging services saved money and offered mutual benefits. This collaborative also became an important feature in grant writing because we could demonstrate strong community relationships, which invariably strengthened our proposals.

If your school is interested in building a collaborative, read these tips.

  • List potential partners and identify ways partners can help the school (and contributions the school can make in return).
  • Present your plan and invite partners to join the collaborative.
  • Host regular meetings to share information and resources.
  • Publicize collaborative activities. You'll soon have potential partners approaching you.

Susan Brooks-Young is an educational consultant and writer.