School-Community Partnerships – Where Student Learning Meets the Real World
On Saturday April 4, 2020, Governor Murphy took time during his public address to recognize the outstanding efforts of several New Jersey citizens in aiding the state’s pandemic response. One of those people was Newton High School STEM Teacher and Robotics Advisor Jim Hofmann.
During this school closure, Mr. Hofmann has been organizing the production of face shield parts using school 3-D printers to supply healthcare workers with the kind of personal protective equipment that is in short supply. The idea came from current and former students at Rutgers University New Jersey Medical School, including his son Justin who now works at University Hospital in Newark. Mr. Hofmann also cited widespread contributions from individuals in diverse organizations such as Thorlabs, Gravity DesignWorks, the New Jersey Manufacturing Extension Program, RoNetco Supermarkets, the Prigmore Science Foundation, and Picatinny Arsenal.
This is one shining example of the power of school-community partnerships. An effort on this scale cannot occur without deeply felt connections between partners who have provided one another with reciprocal support over time. Mr. Hofmann builds similar networks between his student leaders, dedicated professionals, and industry leaders to provide richer learning experiences for his nationally competitive Newton Robotics Team.
A key tenet of the Newton Public Schools mission is to “organize ourselves as community schools to ensure we allocate sufficient resources to the social, emotional, and physical well-being of our students as well as to their academic achievement.” We have many active school-community partnerships including:
- We have joined with Project Self-Sufficiency, First Impressions, and Head Start with support from United Way of Northern New Jersey to grow preschool education for 3- and 4-year olds.
- We worked with the Northwest New Jersey Community Action Partnership (NORWESCAP) to help eligible families receive subsidies to offset the cost of preK-2 after-care.
- Our STEAM-themed, afterschool program for grades 3-8 includes collaborations with a number of local entities including Greater Newton Chamber of Commerce, Sussex County Department of Health & Human Services, Sojihuggles Children’s Foundation, Project Self-Sufficiency, Center for Prevention & Counseling, NJ Snap-Ed, the Town of Newton, Newton Medical Center, and Pass It Along.
- We open our school sites to the Center for Prevention & Counseling, Lakeside Counseling Associates, Youth Advocate Programs, and Zufall Health Center to provide on-site wellness and mental & behavioral health services.
- We engage Pass It Along, ThorLabs, Newton Medical Center, and the DreamGirls Initiative to offer wellness-based pathways to mental and behavioral health through student self-discovery, leadership, and volunteerism.
- We have worked with the Mental Health Technology Transfer Center at Rutgers University on a mental health resources map, staff training opportunities, and revisions to our crisis response plans.
- Our School Coordinators have planned and executed two Community Connection Events to develop more purposeful connections between our parents and local providers.
- Our Design Team of committed individuals meets regularly to provide guidance and support at the macro-level to the district’s community schools model, and engage in partnerships at the micro-level that employ organizational strengths toward mutual benefits.
Essential to the success of these and other initiatives is an environment in which school-community collaboration is not only encouraged but normalized. Key elements in our environment are: (1) trust, respect, and support - essential building blocks of any good relationship; (2) mutual benefit - relationships don’t last long if they move in only one direction; (3) connection to school objectives - these efforts must advance student learning; and (4) connection to organizational objectives - helping our partners accomplish their mission and purpose.
We are fortunate to have the generosity of local public, private, and non-profit organizations as well as the commitment of dedicated teachers, administrators, and support staff. Both lead to the shared spirit and common purpose necessary for school-community partnerships to thrive.
Jim Hofmann (center rear in photo) with students and community partners at a ribbon cutting for the Newton Robotics Team's permanent barn at the Sussex County Fairgrounds.