Curriculum, Engagement, Opinion, Pathways, School Community

How to set up community-based education?

A four-step plan to give teenagers a good dollop of community experience under their belts

Exactly how would one go about setting up community-based education? Alas, there is no exact answer. A single high school with authorization to run an experiment on a conditional basis would proceed very differently from a whole school system with the green light after public debate and a full airing of the pros and cons. Let us assume that we’re talking about the latter. The political debate is over, the administrative leadership has been set up and a set of community bodies and organizations, public and private, have signified their willingness to participate.

Here are some features of such a plan in operation:

STEP ONE – Students in third or fourth year high school may participate with parental permission. The approved students, without regard to their academic standing, will select a community posting from an approved list.  Each posting will be for a minimum of two weeks and may be repeated. The maximum posting in any year will be the equivalent of 20% of the total regular class hours. A limit of two credits towards a diploma may be earned through community placements.

STEP TWO – The receiving persons or organization will ensure that an assigned student receives daily opportunities to learn through managed participation in the activity originally identified. For example, a student assigned to an auto repair shop, will be able to assist in actual auto repair and become familiar with the shop as a whole. One assigned to a department store will be involved in merchandising decisions, display, and maintenance work on the floor. A student in a chemical lab will be able to see the practical relationship between the lab’s function and finished products or services in the market. A student with a construction company will learn about the tools of the trade and have some practice in actually using the tools. One assigned to a seniors’ home will meet on a regular basis with an inmate or more for socialization. In other cases, teams of students will engage in modified apprenticeship roles in house building projects. An assignment will be deemed a failure, but not the student, where the student is merely left on the sidelines.

STEP THREE – A pivotal role will be played by the school team.  They will keep records on each assignment including assessment of outcomes. The school team will be in pursuit of pre-determined objectives as agreed in the original approval process. School team members will familiarize themselves with placement opportunities without interfering in the working details of the placement.

STEP FOUR – Each student on community placement will keep a file about the experience including descriptive material supplied by the community agency, essays about the experience, pictures and sketches. The file (excepting private material) will be part of the assessment process managed by the school team. There will be one of two grades assigned after a community placement: Successful or Unsuccessful. Comments from the community agency may be included in the student’s report card.

Anyone reading this brief sketch will be tempted to say: “Why bother?” Why, indeed. The answer lies in the near certainty that teenagers with a good dollop of community experience under their belts will have acquired a sense of social responsibility needed for citizenship in a democracy. More to come!

Meet the Expert(s)

Peter H. Hennessy

Born in 1927, Peter Hennessy walked to a red brick schoolhouse where the teacher taught all the subjects to all the grades at the same time. After sailing through the eight elementary grades in four years and completing high school, he studied history/political economy at Queens University and graduated with honours in 1948.

Based on these early life experiences in the Great Depression, underlined by the horrors of WWII, set him on a mission to bring more fairness and equity into all aspects of society. From 1949 to 1968, he was a high school teacher and administrator, followed by 16 years as a professor of education at Queen’s. Officially retired since 1984, Peter has dabbled in sheep farming, writing, and prison reform. He has written six books, a slew of newspaper columns and journal articles.

Read More