We got in touch with Dr. Lance Gibbon to gain insights into his highly effective community partnership and engagement methods in this series of three interviews.
Dr. Gibbon is a leading thinker in this field with a solid 30-year history of achievement across various school districts. Dr. Gibbon’s endeavors have led to increased community involvement, backing, and pride in local schools, as well as successful approval of school district ballot measures.
In this part, we delve into Dr. Gibbon’s views on the potential of partnerships and the advantages of community engagement for students.
Initially, you define community allies more expansively than most. What do you imply by “community partners?”
That’s an excellent question. I consider community partners as any group or individual outside the school district who assist us in serving students and families. This encompasses service clubs, city and county governments, emergency services, churches, and other non-profits, as well as local businesses and any other organizations supporting us. It also includes local PTSA’s, educational foundations, and even individual volunteers aiding in our schools.
You emphasize the significance of not just seeking assistance from the community but also finding out what school districts can offer in return. What services do you provide for your community partners and how do you decide which services are most needed?
Understanding the community’s needs requires engagement and visibility in the public, actively listening and communicating. Attending events, fundraisers, participating in service clubs and boards, or engaging in casual conversations before or after a football game can provide valuable insights.
Community groups often express a need for assistance in promoting their events to families, desiring the school district to disseminate information via email or post on their website or social media due to the large reach. Naturally, a structured system with guidelines is necessary to ensure that the content communicated for our partners aligns with our mission or supports students.
Offering a platform for community groups to reach parents through posters, flyers, or an electronic advertising tool like Peachjar might be one way to fulfill their needs.
Another service we can offer our partners is networking. Bringing them together can lead to fruitful collaborations. We used to arrange an exclusive event for nonprofits serving students and families in our community. We provided them with information about the district and facilitated discussions, leading to increased efficiency in supporting children.
Providing sponsorship opportunities for staff or community events can also serve as a means to involve community groups. For instance, a district we were associated with used to host a large staff family picnic at a local drive-in theater, offering free food, go-kart rides, and a movie for staff and their families. Sponsors had the opportunity to set up booths at the event, interact with the staff, and engage in direct advertising and promotion, resulting in mutual benefit.
You’ve emphasized that student participation is a fundamental component of your comprehensive community engagement strategy. How do you involve students and what benefits have you observed?
Student involvement is crucial. Since students are at the core of our organization, it is imperative that they play a central role in the events and activities we organize.
During the community events, multiple techniques are employed to engage students. This may involve featuring a performance by a student music or dance group, a marimba band, or a brass ensemble from local schools, in addition to a student art gallery or a sports night. Although logistical challenges are involved, the effort is worthwhile as students enjoy showcasing their talents to community groups, leaving a positive impression.
When students are present, opportunities arise to interview a few of them and have them share their experiences, which has often been a highlight of such events. Following a student performance, conducting interviews about their interests, plans, or school experiences is a simple yet impactful practice.
Alternatively, inviting students or student groups to be guest speakers on topics of interest to particular groups, such as bringing in students from our business and marketing program like DECA to discuss their work in the student store or their post-high school plans when hosting a business group, can also be beneficial.
Aside from events, how else do you incorporate students into community engagement?
It is beneficial whenever students are involved in community service. This could entail a student service club like Key Club volunteering to collect food for the food bank, a robotics club helping to build an accessibility ramp for a community member in a wheelchair, or the NJROTC providing a color guard for special community events during Veterans Day.
At the elementary level, students cultivated their own flowers, created small bouquets, and delivered them to retirement homes, resulting in heartwarming interactions between the seniors and the children that were beneficial for all involved.
Students generally derive immense joy from serving and connecting with the community. However, the most powerful impact is when the community witnesses students giving back instead of solely seeking support.
Why do you believe involving community partners in education is important?
The value of community engagement is often underestimated. While our school systems rightfully prioritize student needs and direct provisions for students, the support and engagement of the community often enable us to meet those needs.
Beyond financial backing, our community partners can contribute volunteers, aid in public relations, advocate, and serve as strong supporters of our students. Attempting to tackle this alone would mean missing out on all these contributions. We must perceive the education of our students as a collaborative community effort, which benefits our community and significantly enhances student outcomes through these partnerships.
About Dr. Lance Gibbon
Dr. Lance Gibbon has dedicated thirty years to serving a diverse range of students, staff, and families in the Puget Sound area. Through innovative strategies and community partnerships, Dr. Gibbon fosters connections and enhances teamwork, embodying servant leadership. He nurtures positive, inclusive learning environments for students, educators, and staff members.
Lance Gibbon contributes to numerous organizations, including Rotary Club, Kiwanis Club, and Big Brothers Big Sisters. His contributions have been recognized with awards from Empower Youth Network, the Washington School Public Relations Association, Best of Whidbey, and EarthGen (formerly Washington Green Schools).