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Nonprofits can make a big difference in public schools, but that doesn't mean working with schools is always easy. Long-term partnerships with schools take a significant amount of time, effort, and flexibility to establish. Even hosting a one-time event at a public school can be a challenge. While school administrators appreciate the help from local nonprofits, they're often spread too thin and left with little time to coordinate schedules with your organization and help you execute initiatives. If your nonprofit is thinking about hosting an event at a public school or starting a long-term program in public schools, here's some advice to help you out.
Plan to be self-sufficient
Teachers and administrators have a million things to do each day. While they will often want to help your organization achieve its goals, they may not feasibly be able to provide you with a whole lot of assistance. Because of this, you should plan to be self-sufficient. The programs you establish should be able to run without the help of people who work at those schools. You should be able to come in before, after, or during school hours, and provide your service without interrupting the school's natural flow and schedule.
Get the word out
It'll be difficult to get kids and parents to participate in your public school initiatives without marketing those initiatives first. The more people your programs at public schools are able to reach, the better it is for your community and your organization.
So, go out into the community and educate parents and kids about what you're doing and what you'll be offering to them. Hand out fliers, speak at community events, and remind parents and students of what they'll need to do to enroll in the programs you're offering. Getting people involved in what you're doing in schools is no different than getting people involved in any of your other initiatives. It takes outreach.
Measure your impact
In order to get funding from grants and donors, you have to be able to prove, in numbers, that you're making a difference. When you're working in schools, measuring your impact becomes even more critical. The school administrators need to be able to see that you're helping them reach their goals. And the kids and parents participating in your programs need to be able to understand your impact, or they won't stay engaged.
Make sure you're keeping track of how many people you're serving and what kinds of results you're delivering at the public schools you serve. Being able to easily present facts to back up your impact will help you establish yourself in the education community.
When you're on your own turf, you get to call all the shots. When you're working at a public school, its administrators have the last word. They dictate when you can work with their students and ultimately determine the role your organization will play at their school. Because of this, you have to be open to communicating with school administrators about their needs, and you have to be open to being flexible in terms of adjusting your schedule and plans. When you're working with another organization, you oftentimes can't expect to stick to a rigid agenda. This is most definitely the case when you're working at public schools, where the education of children takes precedence over just about everything else, including what you're doing.
Keep this in mind as you form partnerships with the education community, and get excited about making an even bigger difference in your community as you expand your efforts into schools!
Jillian Terry is a former Colorado educator. She now puts her expertise to use by blogging about education from a seasoned teacher's perspective on teachingdegree.org and other sites related to pedagogy. She has two daughters and dog named Puppy. Please leave comments and questions for Jillian below!
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Click here to read Craig Van Korlaar's "Research Friday: Ten Types of Collaboration (an alternate view)."