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Working together is the North Carolina way

Traveling the state visiting a variety of school districts and other organizations will reveal a range of themes.

We have written about “everyday heroes” who are doing remarkable work in the face of difficult situations.

We have raised awareness about utility management, homeschooling, and the debate around testing.

One commonality among many districts, individual schools, and the issues, is that community involvement is critical for success.

Benjamin “Rusty” Hall, the principal of Old Town Elementary in Winston-Salem, may have said it best when he declared, “If it takes a village to raise a child, then it takes the entire community to make schools successful. We cannot do it alone.”

Hall is working to institute the Teaching with Poverty in Mind strategic approach throughout his school. A key donor, supported by other stakeholders in the community, is funding the strategic shift. Hall described it as a, “movement to understand poverty and how to respond to students of poverty to ensure success.”

The same donor has allowed Old Town to provide a 1-to-1 learning environment for all of their students — meaning that each student has access to a smart device in each classroom.

Partners help Old Town feed almost 125 hungry students each weekend with their backpack program. They have a clothes closet, emergency funding and assistance to families in need, and even a book store on campus thanks to widespread community support.

Community collaborations between schools and an array of organizations are emerging as full scale campaigns across the state including Project LIFT in Charlotte and the East Durham Children’s Initiative.

Sandra Conway of the Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools Foundation and I had a chance to talk about community partnerships recently. Sandra told me that a number of collaborations are working to lead to greater success for our schools, “Project LIFT is the largest scale example (in Charlotte) but we have hundreds of partners from the local Chic-Fil-A to art galleries to the faith community to the Hornets and the Panthers.”

Conway is also working with Sonja Gantt to relaunch the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS) Foundation to help tell the story of what is going on in the school system as part of a broader effort to build bridges between the community and their schools.

Community involvement can include weighing in on major policy debates.

Ann Clark, the superintendent of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, highlighted the involvement of nonprofits, faith organizations, and individuals in her recent State of Our Schools address. Clark stated in response to the looming student assignment debate in Charlotte that, “We are at an incredible moment where we must wrestle with words like equity and diversity and where kids go to school.”

You can also see growing momentum around trauma in learning and compassionate schools across the state.

The Cabarrus Health Alliance in Cabarrus County is one example.

Late last fall, they partnered with their local school district to show a free screening of the the film Paper Tigers. Paper Tigers is a film that underscores the work of Lincoln High School in Walla Walla, Washington, which specializes in educating youth who have gone through traumatic experiences.

The Cabarrus Health Alliance also runs the Cabarrus STARS program, which is a mentorship and role modeling project. One emphasis is on increasing positive interactions between the youth of Cabarrus County and local law enforcement officials.

Katie Dight, a program coordinator for the Alliance, stressed the importance of Cabarrus STARS. Dight told us that, “Through quality one-on-one time, our youth have the opportunity to learn and grow from their mentors while sharing many of their own personal goals and challenges. We see the tremendous impact these relationships have on both parties, as they speak about the changing perceptions they have toward one another and the relationships that continue after the program has ended.”

The overarching theme that we have heard across the state is that we live in complex times and that meeting those needs will require an array of organizations and individuals working together to achieve positive outcomes for all of our students.

David Thompson, the director of student services for Buncombe County Schools, summed up the opportunity in front of our school systems as “building a community of support…beginning with family and their naturally occurring supports, community agencies for mental health supports, and other charitable agencies that provide basic needs such as food, clothing, and housing.”

Thompson is referring to the trauma informed model. A model that holds that the socio-emotional health of the students and achievement can not be separated.

The promise of collaborations across North Carolina is that we ought to meet the needs of students inside and outside of the classroom in order to achieve greater results for our state.

It begins with a recognition that our students and our educators do not teach, learn, or grow in isolation from the rest of our lives.

Nation Hahn

Nation Hahn is the chief of growth for EducationNC.