How Community Walks Transform Schools
A strong, diverse school should be represented by a strong, diverse community, but this is not always the case. No matter where you live, you should be working to establish relationships with the people around you, but this can be difficult for immigrants who have many concerns other than making friends.
To build a school culture that is successful at improving conditions and solving problems, we must understand other cultures. One excellent way to do this is through a community walk. When the teachers and staff join forces with many cultures, it can bring additional wisdom and insight on how to handle tough problems.
Researcher Anne Henderson said, “Touring the neighborhood will help teachers and staff members appreciate the life and soul of the community where they teach, develop deeper relationships with families, identify community resources to tap, and enrich instruction using what they learn about families’ cultures and backgrounds.”
So, how do we begin to implement community walks?
- Choose a neighborhood: Any neighborhood where many students live is a great choice.
- Contact community leaders: Let the community leaders know that you will be walking their neighborhood and that you would love to have an hour to discuss any concerns.
- Visit a place of worship: Many students attend a place of worship often, so understanding your students’ faith can be a critical way to increase understanding.
- Include landmarks: If there are buildings that are central to your students’ way of life, visiting those can improve the way you relate to your students.
- Plan to eat: Eating together is a wonderful way to build relationships, so choose a place to eat within the community.
- Invite students to walk, too: Walking with your students helps you understand what their lives are truly like. Talk to them as you walk and ask questions.
Many teachers say that the community walks are their favorite part of the year since they get to learn so much in a short time about their students. Along the way, teachers can meet parents, siblings, and grandparents to expand the circle for students.
The model for Community Walks is Oakland International High School in Oakland, California,, a community comprised of newly arrived immigrants to the United States. Typically low income, many students must work to supplement the family income while also attending school. Unique in its structure, Oakland International has only 100 students per grade and the students stay with the same 5 teachers for the first two years of school. As juniors and seniors, the students have opportunities for internships and mentoring in diverse businesses and public offices.
The typical school day consists of “working in small groups, students learn academic content, art, music and technology through exciting, rigorous, hands-on projects as they learn their new language.” One of the ways that the teachers and administration provide support to these students is through the connections made on the community walk. Because students understand that the school wants to work with the community for their success, the network of resources is unlimited.