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Partnerships and Building Relationships

Tips from 7 Experts on School-Community Collaboration

school collaboration 3

This month the Alliance for a Healthier Generation is celebrating America’s Healthiest Schools.

Schools recognized by the Alliance have met stringent guidelines for serving healthier meals and snacks, getting all children active and empowering school leaders to become healthy role models.

Schools are essential partners for out-of-school time organizations. According to the Afterschool Alliance, 73% of parents report that their child’s afterschool program is located in a public school building. It does not matter if you are a school leader, community stakeholder or youth development professional, we must all work together to create a support network to help children triumph over the tough challenges they face.

Let’s start with a reality check. Here are three statistics:

• 16.2 million children live in households that lack the means to get regular nutritious food.
• 4,787 young people ages 10 to 24 were victims of homicide in 2012.
• 1.3 million homeless children were enrolled in public schools during the 2013-2014 school year.

These issues go beyond the children directly impacted and ripple through our communities and neighborhoods. To overcome these challenges, we as afterschool, out-of-school time and expanded learning professionals must find innovative ways to partner with teachers, schools and school districts.

To provide you with tangible tips, I’ve consulted with seven organizations. Each provides a unique perspective on why school-community collaborations are essential and how to craft successful partnerships.

My first question is for Carlos Santini, National Vice-President of Programs for After-School All-Stars and fellow Breakfast Club blogger. Carlos previously served as the Associate Director for After-School All-Stars Los Angeles.

After-School All-Stars is a school-based program. What has been most successful in starting school-based collaborations?

Carlos: Get to know your school principal. And, it’s important to have empathy and really understand where they’re coming from. Encourage staff to be proactive in reaching out to school administrators or faculty. Start the conversation and create a narrative based on good news rather than a challenge. When students in your afterschool program tell you that a teacher as made a positive impact on them, share that with the teacher.

Start by asking your local principal, “is there anything you’ve been wanting to do with your students or school community that you’ve not been able to do, perhaps an event, field-trip or activity?” Make careful notes of their responses and begin planning how your program can make this happen. Once you help a school check something off their bucket list, your credibility and desirability skyrockets.

My second question is for Sean Gustafson. Over the past three years at the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, Sean has had the opportunity to work on Let’s Move! Active Schools and is currently a Healthy Schools Program Manager in New York City.

As someone who works closely with school leaders, why do you think schools and communities need to work together?

school-community collaborationSean: It can be as simple and school and afterschool staff working together to provide consistent and healthy role modeling. It’s essential for all partners to provide cohesive messaging.

When it comes to serving healthy meals, afterschool providers and schools can use the new Smart Food Planner to find nutritious foods.

My third question is for Peggy Agron, National Director of Healthy Schools for Kaiser Permanente.


What’s the goal of Thriving Schools and why intentional partnerships important when time and resources are limited?

Peggy: The goal of Thriving Schools is to improve the health of students, staff and teachers in K-12 schools in communities that Kaiser Permanente serves. It is an effort to increase healthy eating and physical activity, social and emotional wellness and school employee wellness primarily through a focus on policy, systems and environmental changes.

We cannot expect children to reach their full potential if their basic needs are not met and if they have been exposed to multiple Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACES). Research has shown the negative, long-term impact of trauma experienced during critical periods on brain development, learning ability, social relations and future physical and psychological health.

Partnerships between afterschool programs and schools provide essential support to all adult-allies to manage their own stress and equip them with essential tools, knowledge and resources to help children get access to essential services within the community.

My fourth question is for Marcia Dvorak, Project Director of the Kansas Enrichment Network, one of the statewide afterschool networks. State afterschool networks are dedicated to raising awareness of the importance of afterschool and to building capacity of existing programs.

One of the greatest challenges for afterschool providers is adequate funding. In your experience, how have school and community partnerships strengthened funding opportunities? What other community partnerships are necessary to develop a strong infrastructure for quality afterschool?

school-community collaborationMarcia: Grants require continued submissions of proposals, a great deal of staff time, and come with a constant concern that funding will be short-term or even cause mission-drift. A community approach affords leaders to focus on local needs, and when the community provides support, sustainability is strengthened.

Partnerships capitalize on each other’s strengths and create a holistic approach. Collaboration among providers can allow staff to learn from each other. Classroom educators provide pedagogical strategies while afterschool staff incorporate their expertise in positive youth development.

Afterschool is also a perfect opportunity to work on soft (essential) skills, strengthen 21st Century skills and exposes youth to career options. Collaborative partnerships connect businesses to academic skills and afterschool programming. Business employees can speak to youth to build career awareness, serve as mentors, or even provide internships and job-shadowing. These methods help disengaged students, spark interest in careers for all youth and offer opportunities for the community to develop its future workforce.

My fifth question is for Clarissa Hayes, Child Nutrition Policy Analyst at Food Research and Action Center.

According to your recent report Hunger Doesn’t Take a Vacation, in July 2015, 15.8 children received summer nutrition on a typical weekday for every 100 low income students who received lunch in the 2014-2015 school year. Do you think schools and summer and out-of-school programs need to partner to change this statistic?

school-community collaboration

Clarissa: Yes! Schools are the perfect partner to engage in addressing food insecurity during the summer. Because they already have existing infrastructure and expertise in operating the child nutrition programs during the school year, schools are a great source to tap for providing nutritious meals during the summer. Out-of-school programs can reach out to their school district to see whether they can sponsor the meals component of their program, which means the school would take responsibility for purchasing meals, delivering meals to programs and the paperwork.

My sixth question is for one of the Alliance for a Healthier Generation’s implementation partners working to advance the National AfterSchool Association Standards for Healthy Eating and Physical Activity, Allison Colman Program Manager for the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA).

NRPA recently reported that the top outside partner of recreation agencies are local school districts (54%). How have you seen local recreation agencies collaborate with school districts to strengthen afterschool and community programs?school-community collaboration

Allison: Traditionally, park and recreation agencies often work with schools through shared-use agreements, allowing out-of-school providers to utilize school campuses and services during the summer months or for afterschool programs.  Less traditional models of successful shared-use are emerging every day, providing mutual benefits for both schools and recreation agencies.

A great example comes from the Maryland National Capital Park and Planning Commission who entered a partnership with Prince George’s County Public Schools to provide swimming lessons at five elementary schools, increasing physical activity and teaching children basic swim skills they will use for life.

My seventh and final question is for Sarah Sliwa, Physical Activity, Nutrition, and Obesity Prevention Fellow at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

What should afterschool staff know about the work of the CDC School Health branch? What opportunity do you see for afterschool providers to partner with ongoing school wellness efforts?

CDC works to increase children’s opportunities to be physically active and consume foods and beverages like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, milk, and water throughout the school day. Many children stay on school grounds after the school day ends. Learning doesn’t stop with the last bell, and neither does the need for healthful foods, active play, and other options for physical activity.

We are partnering with two national organizations, the Alliance for a Healthier Generation and the Boys and Girls Club of America, to develop resources, professional development, and trainings for out of school time (OST) providers, with a focus on school-sited programs. One of the goals of this partnership is to collaborate with existing networks, like the HOST (Healthy Out of School Time) Coalition, to support and increase the adoption of the evidence-based Healthy Eating and Physical Activity (HEPA) Standards. We are excited about this work and the role we may be able to play in helping fill some information gaps about children enrolled in school-sited OST programs.

Community-school collaborations are an important piece of supporting children’s well-being. CDC and ASCD’s Whole School, Whole Community, Whole Child framework illustrates how schools and the connections between schools, families, and the community are essential to supporting children’s academic achievement and physical, social, and emotional development. OST programs can support health behaviors through their programming, staff role-modeling, policies and practices, and connection to parents.

How do you currently collaborate with teachers, principals and school districts?

Maybe you’re just getting to know each other. Perhaps you’re informally sharing space or exploring joint-fundraising. Maybe you’ve already established a shared used agreement or work together to serve snacks and meals.

No matter where you are in the process, stay focused on the goal – helping our children live long healthy lives. Resilience and success is only possible if we work together.

For an extended version of this article, visit the Alliance for a Healthier Generation’s Healthy Out-of-School Time blog to read more interview questions with a special focus on training tips and success stories.

A special thanks to everyone who collaborated on this article. All photos provided by After-School All Stars.

For breakfast I had a giant iced coffee and a banana. 

Author Profile: @danielh

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