When the education conversation turns to the shared benefits of community engagement, it must be conceded traditional public schools have a geographic advantage.
They need only look out their windows to see the community to which they belong. In turn, the surrounding community feels a natural connection to their neighborhood school.
By contrast, charter schools are not entirely geo-specific, thus they may lack that readymade community with which they interact. Charters determined to connect to the world beyond their campuses must be active, intentional, and persistent to create a supportive community environment for the students and the education to grow.
The role of effective community engagement is integral to helping charter schools thrive where they are planted. Community Engagement looks like a charter school that is an integral part of its community. It has partnerships with businesses, municipalities, and other local agencies that benefit their students and their neighborhood. The school excels at bringing their internal community of parents, teachers, students and administration together around the mission of the school. This internal community demonstrates support and cohesion.
Successful charter schools fashion community outreach solutions of their own unique design and for their own special circumstances, which demonstrate the forward-thinking qualities that are hallmarks of thriving charter schools.
Through its IMPACT Awards, Building Hope is proud to recognize the efforts of charter schools that excel in the arena of community engagement.
“It’s part of our charge, our responsibility to be active contributing members to the communities we work in and serve,” says Monica Maccera-Filpuu, executive director at Common Ground Charter High School in New Haven, CT, which won the 2022 IMPACT Award from Community Engagement. “Community-based education is better for our students. We have the opportunity to give something back to our communities.”
Common Ground emphasizes environmental stewardship in an urban setting. It partners energetically with other area schools to provide learning experiences similar to those enjoyed by its own students. This more-hands approach manifests itself in shared field trips or on-site workshops at New Haven’s traditional public schools.
Getting other schools involved broadens and enhances Common Ground High’s core mission, a significant factor for those choosing Community Engagement winners.
“The way I view community engagement is identifying core values, like in a particular community, and being able to use those values in a teaching format,” says Nick Valverde, a managing director for Risk Strategies, and member of the Community Engagement Selection Committee.
“My definition of [community engagement] is exactly the name of this program: The IMPACT Summit,” says Sam Chawkat, chief operations officer at Dynamic Network Solutions, and another Community Engagement Selection Committee member. “It’s impact. It’s not necessarily responding to the need and delivering. It’s not necessarily saying we’re going to differentiate ourselves from the district system.
“It’s the impact in their community – the impact of providing an outlet for students who didn’t have an outlet … with the system they were in, providing a way for parents to be able to strengthen their students and have them be able to achieve more and move forward, impacting the community for the better.”
Not that community engagement isn’t important to every school and district in the country. No principal, supervisor, chancellor, PTA or school board would dismiss, in these times, the need for meaningful campus-community connection. However, as hybrids with unique responsibilities and techniques — not to mention, as a result, heightened scrutiny — charter schools have a special need to become entangled with the world beyond their walls.
Additionally, charter schools that perform community engagement effectively lay down a glide path for others to follow. And follow, they do.
“There’s one that provided that impact that yielded to the second one, to the third one, to the fourth one,” Chawkat says. “Because it left a ripple effect and a change of thought for these parents that, yeah, this is actually delivering a great program.”
Additionally, Chawkat says, effective community engagement lifts the shroud of mystery and uncertainty that stubbornly attaches to the charter school movement.
“A lot of people don’t even know what charters do. The fact that now you have more and more parents sending their students to charter schools, that left an impact, because they know now what a charter school does.”
The finalists for the 2023 Community Engagement Award are:
Codman Academy in Dorchester, MA
International Community School in Decatur, GA
Memphis STEM Academy Elementary in Memphis, TN