Recently I was part of a school-community partnership group. We were brought together to create a measurement plan for learning objectives set forth by a local school district. The objectives all focused on building 21st Century skills in youth. There was a heavy emphasis on developing global citizens and cultivating youth interests and talents. Too often these traits are thought of as "soft skills"; however research suggests that soft skills are sometimes the most demanded in the workforce. In fact, National Public Radio ran an article that stated that preschool is one of the best training programs because of the emphasis on soft skills in early childhood. Like preschool teachers, youth workers strive to help youth develop skills that will make them more productive citizens.
Other members of the school-community group were surprised when I said that youth workers think about 21st Century skills all the time. In fact, these are often the goals that drive our program. Their surprise led me to wonder why K-12 teachers don't know this very important part of nonformal learning. Clearly there is a need for more sharing of knowledge. So how can we as nonformal educators collaborate more effectively with schools?
I am not the first person to be concerned about this. AnnMarie Schamper, an educator in Philadelphia, wrote an article in the Spring 2012 edition of Afterschool Matters called Collaboration Between Afterschool Practitioners and In-School Teachers. With a realistic perspective she expressed the need for in-school and out-of-school educators to collaborate and communicate. She offered concrete examples from her practice to serve as a learning tool for others. Collaboration isn't easy, but she put the need for it into perspective, saying, "Collaboration between in-school teachers and after-school practitioners helps both sets of professionals, but the ultimate beneficiaries are the students."
As youth workers, we care deeply about the development of the young people that we work with. Even though it is challenging to find ways to connect with schools, I would argue that it's increasingly important. If we are to build 21st Century learners, we need the help of whole communities, and schools are an important player.
How have you effectively partnered with schools? How have you overcome barriers? What benefits have you seen?
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