Dr. Gibbon is a thought leader in this area with a strong 30-year track record of success in multiple school districts. Dr. Gibbon’s efforts have resulted in increased community engagement, support and pride in local schools, and successful passage of school district ballot measures.
In this segment, we explore Dr. Gibbon’s perspectives on the power of partnerships and how community engagement benefits students.
To start, you have a much broader definition of community partners than most. What do you mean when you say, “community partners?”
That’s a great question. I look at community partners as any group or individual outside the school district that is supporting us in serving students and families. So that means our service clubs, city and county governments, emergency services, churches, and other non-profits plus local businesses and any other organizations that support us. Of course, it also includes our local PTSA’s, educational foundations and even individual volunteers helping out in our schools.
You talk a lot about the importance of not just asking the community for help but finding out what school districts can offer in return. What services do you provide for your community partners and how do you determine which services are most needed?
Figuring out what the community wants means you’ve got to engage and be visible in the public, listening and talking. You can learn a lot about what the community needs by attending events and fundraisers, participating in service clubs and boards, or just chatting before or after a football game. Just keep your listening ears on.
Community groups will often say they need help to promote their events to families and want the school district to send an email or post to their website or social media because they can reach thousands of people at once.
Of course, you have to have a system in place with guidelines to make sure whatever you’re helping communicate for your partners is aligned with your mission or supporting students.
It might be offering a platform for community groups to reach parents through posters, fliers, or an electronic advertising tool like Peachjar.
Networking is another thing that we can offer our partners. When we can bring them together, it’s amazing how often community groups are unaware of what other groups are doing.
We used to host a special event just for nonprofits serving students and families in our community. We’d feed them and provide them with some information about what’s happening in the district.
Most importantly, we would facilitate conversations. They’d sometimes discover they were duplicating efforts or could help another group. The bottom line was that together they were able to accomplish more for kids.
Offering sponsorship opportunities for staff or community events can also be a great way to get community groups involved. For example, in one district we used to host a large staff family picnic hosted at a local drive-in theater with free food, go-kart rides, and a movie for staff and their families.
Sponsorships made it free, but sponsors were able to set up booths at the event and interact with the staff and had some access in terms of direct advertising and promotion to staff. It’s a win-win.
You’ve said that student involvement is a key part of your overall community engagement strategy. How do you get students involved and what benefits have you seen?
That’s a great question. I think student involvement is vitally important. Since we’re an organization that’s all about students, it makes sense that students should be at the center of the events and the activities that we put together.
When we organize the community events I just described, we do a variety of things to get kids involved.
Maybe we have a student music or dance group come and perform. Or, perhaps a marimba band from a local elementary school, a middle school, or a brass ensemble. You could feature a student art gallery or try out a sports night.
I know there are logistics involved with pulling that off, but it’s worth the effort. The students love being in front of community groups and it’s great for the adults to just see the students in action.
Once the students are there, you’ve got a chance to interview a couple of them and let them share their stories. The times we did this I’d often hear it was the highlight of those events. After a student performance, just interview them about their interests, plans, or school experiences.
It’s simple and powerful, really.
Another option is to invite a student or student group to be guest speakers about a topic of interest for that particular group.
For example, if we were hosting a business group, it might be bringing in some students from our business and marketing program like DECA to talk about their work in the student store or their post-high school plans.
Besides events, how else do you get students involved with community engagement?
It’s great any time you can get students involved with volunteering in the community. You might have a student service club like Key Club volunteering to help collect food for the food bank. Or a robotics club that is helping to build an accessibility ramp for an individual in the community that’s in a wheelchair.
Or it might be the NJROTC providing a color guard for special community events during Veterans Day.
At the elementary level, we had students who grew their own flowers and put together little bouquets and delivered the flowers to retirement homes. The residents there were so excited to see the students.
And the interactions between the seniors and the children were priceless. Again, it was just something that really benefited everybody that was involved.
Students generally really enjoy serving and being connected in the community. But, what’s most powerful is for the community to see the students giving back and not just asking the community to serve or support them.
Why do you think it’s important to involve community partners in education?
It’s easy to underestimate the value of community engagement. In our school systems, we rightfully focus on student needs and what we’re doing directly for students.
Unfortunately, in the process, we can miss the fact that the community support and the community engagement are often what allows us to be able to meet those needs.
More than just financial support, our community partners can provide volunteers, help with public relations, advocate, and be some of our biggest cheerleaders for our students.
We’d miss out on all of that if we tried to do this alone. We’ve got to see the education of our students as an all-inclusive community-based effort. It’s great for our community and the outcomes for our students are going to be significantly better because of those partnerships.
About Dr. Lance Gibbon
Dr. Lance Gibbon has been serving a diverse range of students, staff, and families for three decades in the Puget Sound area. Cultivating connections and enhancing team building through creative strategies and community partnerships, Dr. Gibbon exemplifies servant leadership. He fosters positive, inclusive learning environments for students, educators, and staff members alike.
Lance Gibbon supports many organizations, including Rotary Club, Kiwanis Club, and Big Brothers Big Sisters. He has been honored with awards from Empower Youth Network, the Washington School Public Relations Association, Best of Whidbey, and EarthGen (formerly Washington Green Schools).