COVID-19 created unprecedented challenges but also served as a catalyst to rethink important aspects of our schools. One area where I see a big opportunity is to reimage middle school culture. AMLE’s landmark position paper The Successful Middle School: This We Believe highlights the importance of engaging families as valued partners and collaborating with community and business partners. Moving forward, we should consider how we partner with these stakeholders to increase student success.
As a note before you continue reading, this article assumes educators are working in a post-pandemic environment. I am hopeful, though understand that currently we are still very much in an active Pandemic.
Partnerships with Families
Partnerships with families have always been important in the middle grades and the pandemic has made these relationships even more essential. As schools receive children back into the buildings, we must connect with families. School staff should communicate with families often about students’ social and academic development. Some questions and approaches to consider:
- Where are students socially?
- Have students had an opportunity to connect with peers to engage in conflict resolution, decision making, collaboration, etc.?
- Schools can ask families for more information about a child’s well-being through surveys. After reviewing survey data, schools can create a return-to-school plan that uses parent responses as a foundation for programming. For example, if several parents state that students struggled socially throughout the pandemic, schools can begin school with a focus on social emotional learning rather than jumping into academic learning.
Schools can also provide strategies for families to help them transition back to full-time, face-to-face education. Parent workshops or parent pods can also help. Personally, I created an organization that works with families to help students make the transition back to face-to-face school. We meet bi-monthly with a curriculum created in part by participants to discuss strategies that can be used at home. We use an online learning text and utilize parent education facilitators to conduct the trainings. Parents and middle school students alike have mentioned how helpful these sessions have been. Middle schools can help transition back to the building in similar ways.
Partnerships with Community
The collective community has a wealth of resources that middle school leaders can tap into to partner with their students. When schools are working with the community there are several questions that can be considered:
- What is the mission/vision of this organization?
- How does this mission/vision align with the mission/vision of our school?
- How can this organization add value to the members of our school community?
When I was a middle school principal, I harnessed that community wealth into my school by inviting members to serve as mentors and facilitators for my students. Community volunteers served as guest speakers, or offered their expertise and helped guide young adolescents through mentoring and tutoring programs. They helped improve the culture of the school by bringing their positive messages to students. As schools plan for the next school year, community partners can help support and guide students after the pandemic.
Partnership with Business Partners
Local businesses can be vital partners in supporting school revenue and students’ career readiness. This type of help has traditionally been a vital portion of a school’s vision. With some businesses struggling through the pandemic, this could be the school’s time to give back to businesses. This partnership could be in the form of service learning projects. Projects can be as simple as helping businesses beautify their yards, entrances, etc. or as complex as years long commitments that seek to transform communities in various ways. These projects can demonstrate to middle school students that profit comes in various forms and the benefits that arise from helping in your local community.
One example of a profitable service-learning project is pairing students with businesses to ensure that the community’s basic needs are met. Schools can help businesses become more profitable and the lives of middle school students become richer through this type of service learning. When I taught middle school, serving our community was one way we bolstered school unification and demonstrated how helping others can help you as well. Schools and businesses can partner to distribute Covid care bags and help seniors sign up for vaccinations. Businesses can donate their goods and/or services and middle school students can learn about how goods and services can impact the community during difficult times. Middle school students can also learn that a business is profitable when it recognizes the importance of meeting a community’s needs through service.
Whatever your middle school decides to do, having a strategic plan for students to re-enter the school post pandemic will take careful consideration of partnerships with the families, the community, and business partners. What will your school do to ensure post-pandemic school culture is conducive to the middle school learner?
Dr. LaTasha Adams is a former middle school teacher and principal. She currently serves as the Middle Grades Coordinator/Assistant Professor at Clayton State University near Atlanta, Georgia. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.