School Buildings as Community Centers

guest written by Justin Baumgartner
When participating in an #edchat conversation recently, I was surprised to hear that many school districts, possibly even the majority, have their doors locked for the bulk of the time during the year. I was surprised because at my school, we barely have enough time for our custodians to deep-clean the building.

To make your school a center of the community you need a good management and organizational system. We use Links4Learning and create sign-out sheets for the various rooms and equipment that we have available. Not only does this allow you to organize room availability,  it gives you a chance to see what resources the school can offer to the community. In our district, the gyms are used by various sports and clubs throughout the year. Other common work spaces such as libraries, theaters, computer labs, baseball and soccer fields can be good community resources. Making these spaces available for rent to clubs, organizations, and other groups can turn typically unused space (during the off-hours) into a source of revenue for the school.

There are some prerequisites besides the management system that need to be satisfied to make sure that your school is suitable for community use. Having custodial staff working varied hours such as second shift and on Saturdays (and other staff members that work during off-school hours) is a must. Having people that are invested in the well-being of the school available to lock and unlock doors as well as maintain the security of the building cannot be overemphasized.

Our school runs a summer school that is partially supported by the state. This is a big source of revenue for the district. Our summer school offers supplemental core subject courses designed to help kids catch up with their grade level as well as fun classes that offer unique educational opportunities. Last year, state funding for summer programs in my state was in jeopardy. Hopefully funding will continue or another way to keep summer school alive will be found, because I believe that these programs are excellent learning opportunities for kids that are often just as valuable as time spent in a regular school classroom.

Other programs such as Camp Invention are excellent programs that can put the school building to good use during the year. These camps and clubs are typically self-supporting and offer the community services as well as bolster the reputation of the school. Between 3 sessions of summer school and Camp Invention, our school buildings are only empty for about two weeks during the summer for the custodians to get their cleaning done.

There are also many different means not employed by my school to turn the facility into a community center during the off hours. Offering workshops and classes for the rest of the community, having public access to the computer lab on evenings and weekends, and targeting the population of the district that doesn’t have children all have the possibility to draw additional revenue and build a stronger school presence in the community.

There are already examples of ways to build a collaborative community using shared resources out there called “Hackerspaces” that focus on exactly that. There is a library that has created such a space as well.

Creating a community center is really about the people that put the time and effort in. Without the teachers, custodians, maintenance workers, and administrators all on board, the building remains just a building — and an expensive one an that!

About the author: Justin Baumgartner is a Technology Coach for the Merton Community School District. You can follow him on Twitter: @MertonTech.

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