Bloomington New Tech Capitalizes on Community Partnerships
By Barbara Gillenwaters
In a time of decreased budgets and increased expectations for preparing students for the 21st-century workplace, schools are pursuing innovative ways to build strong learning environments for students. Bloomington New Tech High uses community partnerships as a powerful tool to generate resources essential for promoting educational excellence.
Establishing strong school-community partnerships has been a major component of Bloomington New Tech’s development plan since it was in the beginning stages. During the school’s planning phase, principal Alan Veach devoted time to develop community partnerships throughout Monroe County. While introducing parents, higher education institutions, businesses, and community leaders to the New Technology High School model, Veach emphasized the importance and benefits for both students and the community. Bloomington New Tech now is reaping the rewards of cultivating strong business and community support. Veach knows local leaders on a first-name basis and can pick up the phone to contact chief executives of major community organizations and industries to find resources that support student learning.
When the school opened in August 2008, the teachers and students discovered their computers needed mouse pads. With one phone call, State Farm Insurance came to the rescue with enough mouse pads to accommodate the entire school. State Farm Insurance also provided student agendas to help the ninth-graders learn and utilize organizational skills.
Local organizations also have helped provide real-world authenticity to student projects. To deepen student understanding of the problem-solving process, detectives from the local prosecutor’s office worked with students in demonstrating how to process a crime scene. “On another occasion, Cook Industries brought over a balloon in the planning stages for use in angioplasty and challenged students to assist in solving a recurring problem. The research and development team walked away amazed at the solutions proposed by freshmen students,” said Veach.
Indiana University and Ivy Tech Community College also are active partners. “Ivy Tech is committed to and enthusiastic about our educational partnership to provide dual credit opportunities to Bloomington New Tech students in order to meet graduation requirements,” said John Whikehart, chancellor for Ivy Tech Community College–Bloomington and member of the Bloomington New Tech advisory board.
Bloomington New Tech is working with the local higher education institutions to develop a wide range of career opportunities and supports. The schools are working together to establish internships and shadowing opportunities, college visits, and postsecondary informational activities. The high school also works with science, technology, engineering, and math departments to create activities related to New Tech’s project-based learning curriculum.
Men of Color, a leadership group at Indiana University organized to empower youth with the skills and knowledge needed to foster academic success, serve as mentors for Bloomington New Tech’s freshmen. They visit the school on Fridays during lunch, build relationships, and model postsecondary success.
To pair educational improvements with economic development, Veach organized a community-wide group of citizens representing diverse industry sectors into a school advisory board. Members include business, higher education, volunteer, social service, health, and faith-based partners. Veach recently issued a series of challenges to the advisory board: 1) get to know a student on an individual basis; 2) serve as a student advocate; 3) participate on interview panels and student presentation committees; and 4) ask him (Veach) the hard questions.
To assist in Bloomington New Tech’s sustainability efforts, the advisory board established a fundraising goal of $400,000 over four years. Thanks to the strong connections and broad support of the advisory board and Bloomington community, $300,000 has been raised in one year.
The school-community partnership at Bloomington New Tech High serves as a model of community engagement and civic responsibility to improve education. “When public schools and the community work as partners to rapidly respond to student needs, students learn at better and increasingly higher levels through creative, action-oriented collaboration and problem solving. Working together, schools, industry, organizations, and community can advance knowledge and improve student learning,” said Veach.
Published: March 2009