Don't most of us learn better when the subject matter connects to our lived realities in some way? It has been my experience that when learning is grounded in the community students live within, they tend to have an increased level of curiosity and engagement for the lesson at hand. This leads to not only a captivated audience for the day, but allows for students to absorb, co-create and internalize their learning experiences.
Meaningful family engagement blossoms
Teaching curriculum anchored in the neighborhood of a school (particularly when the school population is reflective of the neighborhood in which it is located) is often an ideal setting for inviting families to co-facilitate and co-create lessons. Community-based learning will require knowledge that teachers may not have about neighborhood landmarks and cultures, so who better to call upon but the families of students!
Social capital is increased
Increasing the social capital of students requires exposure to new people and organizations. Leveraging community partners to co-host community-based curriculum allows for students to experience new people, organizations and resources in their community. Resources and community leaders exist everywhere, sometimes its a matter of finding the platform to connect the dots.
Cultural competency is strengthened
Outside of formal cultural competency trainings, there are limited spaces for educators to continue improving their cultural competency, which is a life-long process not a box to check! Sometimes the term "cultural competency" looms large, but really it's as simple as building relationships with those who are different, demographically speaking. Community-based learning is a fabulous way to foster and maintain meaningful relationships within your student's neighborhood.
To learn more about cultural competency work I recommend visiting the work of Teaching Tolerance.
Cross-sector partnerships emerge
Cross sector partnerships occur most often at the middle and high school level, but can be incredibly impactful at the elementary level as well. Community-based learning often can seamlessly incorporate different sectors to enhance lessons. For instance, a 5th grade common core science standard on wastewater and water filtration can be imagined to be a community-based lesson by collaborating with higher education and local workforce. In New Bedford, this process was facilitated by Grow Education, inviting a local Bristol Community College professor to come speak about his federally grant funded new wastewater training facility, which might be a future field trip. His presentation was complemented by a local residential wastewater operator, who was born and raised in New Bedford, to speaking about his journey into the career field. The standard could have been taught through prescribed supporting texts alone, but was brought to life and made relevant by engaging people across sectors to inspire students to imagine a future in wastewater, an emerging green job sector on the rise. To learn more about this specific event, click here.
A working definition of Community-Based Learning (CBL) can be found here.