Thrive Where You Live: A Case for Community-Based Learning

Posted in Blog on September 06, 2018

Guest blog from Dave Tebo, Superintendent of Hamilton Community Schools and Lakeshore Advantage Board MemberScreenshot-2018-09-06-07-49-36.png

What if learning wasn’t confined to the four walls of a school? What if learning instead happened in the community as a whole? In short, employers across the lakeshore would benefit. Students would possess the skills the community taught them, not just what the education system thought they needed.
Take our recent Hamilton graduate Will Baker, for example. He’s a talented, award-winning student filmmaker who discovered his passion for the camera by simply watching YouTube videos about basic techniques and equipment he needed. Then, with training and support from his teacher and classmates, he honed his filmmaking skills in the classroom. But it didn’t stop there. 
In May, Will produced a professional, six-minute video promoting our district’s new strategic vision, a film with thousands of views between our YouTube and Facebook platforms. Creating the video pushed him beyond the classroom setting, out into the community, meeting new people, testing new equipment, and learning new skills.
Will has decided not to attend college - for now. Instead he is starting his own business and working with business contacts that Hamilton and Careerline Tech Center teachers suggested. Homegrown talent, staying in West Michigan, helping businesses right away because he has a community-taught skill and the time to offer it.
Our vision at Hamilton Community Schools is that each student will thrive, like Will, when they graduate and move on to the world of work. We are building a safe, rigorous, modern, and personalized learning experience for our students. They will leave adaptive, collaborative, and motivated young adults.
To accomplish our vision, however, we have to unlearn some mainstream ideas about learning. These traditional frames hold us back from becoming all we can be for our students, our businesses, and our communities. Siloed subjects, seat-time, and averaging grades are simply a few issues that must be examined from the lens of outcome versus the process.
Think of school as what was/is – “formal learning” – and what is/might be – “formal and informal learning.” Every child is a learner, some faster or slower than others. Some are motivated by the current structures and topics of school; others are motivated by non-school topics. In the end, each is a learner.
The question is, can we look beyond the compliance side of school and use students’ informal learning, such as Will’s YouTube training, as a means to improve formal learning? Can we give up some control of formal learning to use informal learning to frame learning and growth toward the standards we want each student to master? How can that then transfer to the working world?
Hamilton has partnered with Lakeshore Advantage, Grand Valley State University, Ottawa Area ISD, and Saugatuck Public Schools to create a community-based, formal and informal learning program to address these questions: Prep4Success. Last summer a group of students from Hamilton, Saugatuck, and Jension determined to become successful employees, local students need more soft skills and the ability observe the world of work. So a subset of those original students planned a mini-conference at GVSU’s Meijer Campus in Holland, a pilot of sorts, for about 300 ninth graders. About 30 employers taught communication-skill building exercises and communicating-with-technology exercises.
The reviews were positive. Students learned from people who weren’t their teachers in ways that were meaningful. Employers were refreshed to work directly with students and bridge the gap between education and work.
Moving forward, we are seeking community partners to build Prep4Success. Would you join us as we transform education and improve businesses across the Lakeshore?