At the beginning of the school year, our school district announced a new strategic plan that called for deeper and expanded partnerships within our community. Our goal, at the District's Office of Community Engagement, was to communicate something different to our schools and community about the power of mutually beneficial partnerships.
Our end-of-year Community Celebration seemed the perfect platform for this initiative. This annual event honors partners and volunteers in education and includes more than 700 community partners, volunteers, and administrators from 86 schools. The question was, how can we use this event to communicate this new vision to students in a meaningful and engaging way?
The answer? Involve the students! With the help of administration and a team of teachers, we asked the students to act as event coordinators. Instead of hiring professionals and planning the event ourselves, we invited a variety of community partners to serve as mentors for the students as they planned the event. This was real-world project-based learning (PBL) in action!
As a first step, a group of representatives involved in the project came together to determine the theme: “Branching Out.” The students chose community partners that were best suited for this theme. Catering students partnered with a local alumni-owned farm-to-table restaurant, Commune, and a local working farm that focuses on sustainable agricultural practices.
Design students adopted a “rustic elegance” decor theme using rented materials from a local alumni-owned florist. Entrepreneurship and Innovation students designed a map of the event space with advice from yet another alum who owns a local digital agency.
As the partnerships developed, a group of student volunteers worked with a local video-led digital agency, Jpixx, to create a documentary “The Story of Partnership” to air at the celebration. The video perfectly captures the power of community partnerships and inspires others to think about how they too can “branch out.”
This experience was an excellent showcase of the power of real-world PBL. The students were engaged and excited throughout the entire process. They gained a deeper understanding of the importance of partnerships while building the 21st century skills they need to thrive in school, careers, and life.
A high school junior who was involved in the project said it best:
“Students learn from partners and volunteers, but partners and volunteers learn from us, too. It is a symbiotic relationship that has opened a lot of doors for many students and shows us what we can achieve one day.”