Connecting with Student Communities using Community Walks

Learn about students' communities to create a stronger and more culturally responsive classroom
22 teachers like this strategy

About This Strategy

This strategy provides teachers with the opportunity to learn about and value the richness of their students' communities and support students as they identify ways to contribute to their communities. Spending meaningful time in students' neighborhoods and inviting community members into the classroom provides educators and school staff with the opportunity to learn from those they teach as well as those who care for their students and support their communities. In addition to experiencing an increase in student engagement, teachers will learn more about their students' caregivers and communities. This will create a stronger and more responsive school community.

Implementation Steps

  1. Develop an understanding of the benefits of community walks by reading the articles linked in the resources section below.  

  2. Make a list of the ways that engaging in community walks will help you to meet the goals of your Family Partnership Plan. To learn more about this consult the "Creating and Implementing a Family Partnership Plan" strategy.

    • For example, you might say, "Engaging in community walks will let my students and their families know that their community is important to me, that I am invested in partnership, and that I view my students holistically."

    • Include this list in your partnership plan.  

  3. Set aside time in class to ask students for places in the community they would like you to explore such as landmarks, a local library, a community center, a restaurant, a shopping center, or a place of worship. Also ask students if there are local leaders and community members they would like for you to connect with and why. Make a list of those places and people, and reach out to them to set up a time to visit or connect. You could gather this information by providing students with time to add this information to a Google Doc.

  4. After engaging in a community walk and/or connection with a community leader, reflect on what you learned, what partnerships you were able to begin, and share your learnings with your students and their families. Set up a schedule for continuing to engage in community connections throughout the year (i.e., plan to attend a local festival, musical performance, or celebration).

  5. If you engage with social media, you may want to consider following the social media pages of community organizations so you can stay informed about community events.

Consult the resources below to learn more about the importance and effectiveness of Community Learning Walks.

Students Map Community Assets and Resources

After teachers have participated in the process of connecting with students' communities, they can provide opportunities in class for students to highlight the cultural assets and resources of their communities that move student learning and support student well-being.

Implementation Steps:

  1. Engage students by posing four essential questions to students using the "Vertical Learning" small group activity. A link to a video and description of  "Vertical Learning" is included below. The Four Essential Questions are:

    • Which community resources support you as a learner and community member?

    • In what ways do you benefit from these resources?

    • Which resources are missing from your community that would support you as a learner and community member?

    • How can you contact and work with other community members to improve existing resources?

  2. Before beginning, consider the following questions:

    • How will you gather resources for students to use in their investigation?

    • Who from the community can you contact to visit with students?

    • What are the community partnerships that exist with your school and district?

    • What community partnerships may be willing to sponsor a field trip for students to visit?

    • How can you acquire support from other staff and parents to facilitate the class activity and field trips?

  3. Bring the students together for a whole-class discussion of assets, resources, and concept mapping. Inform students that they will use the information collected from the "Vertical Learning" activity to make a concept map of community assets and resources.

  4. Have students develop a concept map for the following terms: assets and resources (to learn more about developing concept maps, consult the resource section below). The final map can be presented as an individual map or small group map.

    • Have students work collaboratively to identify commonalities and explore differences in identified resources and assets. 

    • Ask students to share their responses to the following questions as they develop their maps: 

      • Who benefits and who does not benefit from the resources in the community?

      • Who has access and does not have access to the resources in the community?

      • What resources are missing from the community that would benefit all community members? 

      • What are possible actions that would provide greater access to resources and assets for all community members?

  5. Provide a list of websites to offer students a starting place for their investigations such as the following: 

    • The Chamber of Commerce

    • Parks and Recreation

    • Community Mental Health organizations

    • United Way

    • Boys & Girls Club

    • Teen/Youth Centers

  6. Ask students to use their personal cultural experiences and knowledge of the community to address the questions. Also ask students to seek references (digital and human) to share as community assets (e.g., family members, neighbors, faith-based organizations, etc.).

  7. Once they have completed their concept maps, have students present their concept maps and responses to peers as well as to community members (e.g., school board members, city leadership).

 

Questions to Consider

  • What might be some barriers to engaging in community connections? What are some ways to overcome those barriers?

  • Are there colleagues at your school who would also be interested in learning more about students' communities? If so, reach out to those colleagues and plan to engage in establishing community connections together.  

  • How can you respond to those who might discourage you from engaging in community connections?

Special Education Modification

Nedra Massenburg
Special Education Specialist

Learning about and valuing the richness of their students’ communities and supporting students as they identify ways to contribute to their communities is an invaluable way to support students with disabilities.   In addition to experiencing an increase in student engagement, teachers can target their use of these times to learn more about their students with disabilities’ caregivers, who often have particular struggles in finding connections with teachers.

In order to plan effectively to incorporate this technique to support students with disabilities in the classroom, teachers should consider the following modifications:

Modifications:

  1.  Teachers should take care to research, and visit if possible, resources in the community specifically serving students with disabilities.   Knowledge and understanding of these resources can help serve as a future bridge to support these students. See the resources in the resource section below for more information.

Funds of Knowledge Theory

The article Tapping into Community Funds of Knowledge by Michael Genzuk explains the Funds of Knowledge theory. It shares an example of how a teacher partnered with the father of one of her students to design and implement successful teaching strategies (this was based on his automotive knowledge) and explains how the teacher capitalized on the student's cognitive strengths and interests and increased engagement in critical academic areas. The article also includes four activities to help teachers identify areas where families can contribute to classroom learning:

  • What is Culture?

  • Culture in Your Home

  • Classroom Culture

  • Ethnographic Study

EL Modification

Shannon Coyle
English Learner Specialist

This strategy provides an excellent opportunity for teachers to develop a relationship with English learner families by learning about their cultural contributions to the community.

English learners need to listen to share verbally or in writing community locales as well as listen to teachers explain the plan and findings. In order to support English Learners consider the following modifications:

Modifications:

  1. Provide the family partnership plan in a language all families can understand. Connect with administration to ensure plans are translated in relevant home languages. Consider calling home using an interpreter as needed to connect and seek out suggestions for cultural relevant pillars of the community. See the "Connecting with ELL Families: Strategies for Success" resource in the resource section below for more information.
  2. Seek out locales serving speakers of other languages in the class. Learn where immigrant, migrant, and refugee communities congregate to celebrate and experience the home culture. Research restaurants, markets, and shops selling food or wares from learners’ home countries. Call city hall, libraries, and community centers about programming and festivities. Reach out to colleagues and friends who share cultures found in the classroom for recommendations. 

  3. Differentiate concept map materials. When making community maps with learners, ensure English learners at all levels of proficiency use scaffolded materials and have a variety of ways to express learning e.g., graphic organizers, templates, discussion frames, sentence starters, graphics representations of writing, curated comprehensible research materials, etc. See the "WIDA Can Do Descriptors" in the resource section below for more information.

Community Asset Mapping Workbook

The Community Asset Mapping Workbook published by The Community Outreach of our United Villages resource provides information and tools to identify the assets and resources in a community, including the local economy, culture and spirituality, employment, recreation, social services, government, people, open spaces, and others.