Guest post by Cameron Soester
In my time at Milford Public Schools, I have learned that it truly takes a village to help our students succeed. Schools and communities share a common goal of creating a learning environment that develops strong students who will one day become productive citizens. Working with the community, however, can be difficult as it takes time and effort for schools to engage its residents and businesses. But taking the time to build these community relationships has been essential to the success of our students at Milford.
A tremendous amount of pride exists among current students, alumni, and community members. The theme of our school district for the last five years has been, “everyone has a story … make yours worth telling.” Even before the adoption of this mantra, the community has been very supportive of the school district in many ways; but I think that folks really understand that their relationship—whatever that might be—matters to the students and the district as a whole. We do regular community focus groups, online surveys, and open meetings in an effort to listen to our residents. To help us improve relationships, staff members represent the school in different area clubs, on community boards, on church leadership committees, and with other local organizations.
Our administrative team and staff constantly work to build relationships with the community. We have some great traditions that help us do that, such as athletic competitions, fine arts programs and performances, and academic engagements. The Milford community finds ways to contribute to our efforts by providing a multitude of resources, including school volunteers, material donations, and monetary gifts.
Each year the Milford Education Foundation (MEF) generously provides scholarships to help students go to the college of their choice. Though other organizations do similar work, MEF is special. Last year, 42 of 55 graduating seniors earned MEF scholarships, totaling approximately $65,000. On top of this gift, students are eligible for a second-year scholarship renewal if they give back to the community through community service hours. These types of opportunities speak to the culture the school has developed with the community and the appreciation the students have for the community’s generosity.
The community has also rallied around the concept of donation matching, helping us to receive a grant from Education Quest. This grant affords us the opportunity to take every student in grades 9–12 on college visits. By the time students graduate, they will have been on at least six college campuses. This grant also allows students in grades 7–12 to participate in a day of interactive sessions that allow them to develop success strategies, to learn about college opportunities, and to explore a career fair. In order to receive this grant, we must receive a certain amount in community donations. These special activities mean enough to our community that they are eager to give. We also get donations from the public for prizes and from local companies for speaker gifts.
Another way our community has supported our school is through an anonymous donation of $2.5 million. This endowed fund generates around $100,000 annually to use for the development and maintainance of new programs and allows for special professional development opportunities for staff. Simply put, many of the opportunities that our students have gained in the last four years would not have been possible without this generosity.
The bottom line is this: Because our community believes in our school, it also believes in helping to make an investment in the future of the community. There are many ways that this has transpired over the years, but without taking the time to foster positive relationships, none of this would be possible. Strive for community engagement!
How do you promote positive community relationships? What are some strategies you use to start building a tradition of giving in your school district? How do you get your community engaged in your school?
Cameron Soester is the 2016 Nebraska Assistant Principal of the Year. He is currently the assistant principal at Milford Junior/Senior High School in Milford, NE.