Reaching Heights connects school and community groups
On Oct. 25, Reaching Heights brought together 58 people representing 38 community groups to discuss working more closely together on the common goal of public school success. The event, Improving School-Community Communication, took place in the cafeteria of the newly renovated Cleveland Heights High School.
The program began with the construction of a communications map. On the map were large circles labeled School District, Religious Institutions, City Governments, Heights Libraries, Non-Profits and Advocacy Groups, and Community Organizations. Participants wrote their group’s name on paper circles and placed them on the map. Then they strung yarn from their circle to the groups that they serve and the groups that are resources to them. The result was an impressive visual demonstration of the interconnectivity and interdependence of the groups at the event with the schools and the city governments, and with one another.
Next, participants gathered in groups of 4–7, to introduce themselves and share ideas. They started by responding to a prompt question and gave each person at the table a few minutes to speak and then answer questions. After 20 minutes, everyone got up and moved to another table and started the introduction and discussion process again, with a new prompt question.
At the end of three rounds, each participant had the opportunity to interact with 9–18 different people while discussing the following questions:
- Question 1: Who does your group serve? How do you invite people to participate? Do you reach everyone you hope to reach?
- Question 2: Which groups do you rely on as resources and how do you find new resources?
- Question 3: How do you seek information from the people you serve to inform any changes to your programming or services?
After an hour of talking it was time for action. Participants grouped by table were asked to generate three action steps to improve communication with the community, with each other, or with the school district.
The combined list of 31 action steps included suggestions to combat misperceptions of our schools with video tours of each building, finding volunteer reporters to write more articles for the Heights Observer, and identifying and regularly using three non-school methods of outreach.
Participants suggested more open houses for the full community, PTA Parent Pamper Day, and an annual Taxpayer Day Carnival at Heights High to increase community engagement.
To improve understanding of school district decision-making, one suggestion was to hold community dialogue sessions prior to formal board of education meetings, and another suggestion was that PTAs send a parent to serve as a board of education meeting representative.
On the event evaluation survey, attendees commented about the small group discussions. “I made contacts that will be useful and I understand better the relationships/dynamic between organizations and agencies,” said one attendee. Another wrote, “[I] was able to connect in a way that allowed my organization to support another organization while getting our name out into the community.”
Asked how this event will benefit their organization, an attendee noted, “I connected with parent groups which I had not thought of doing before and that has already helped.” A different attendee commented, “I made connections with people/organizations that could be potential partners.”
Reaching Heights works to connect the community to CH-UH public schools with information, programs, and events that enrich students and support teachers. Visit www.reachingheights.org for more information, to sign-up for the e-newsletter, to volunteer, or to make a donation to support the organization’s work.
Krista Hawthorne is the executive director of Reaching Heights.