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8 Steps to Build Student-Led School-Community Engagement

Student-Led School-Community Engagement

Career education is an integral aspect of the school counseling program, but educating students on community helpers and their own career interests is just the beginning. Students have the capacity to be contributing community members right now, no matter their grade level. School counselors can walk alongside them as they discover ways they can engage in and contribute to the community. Building school-community engagement not only gives students a window to career options available to them but also leads to positive school outcomes. Schools that link classroom activities to community projects also see dividends in improved school behaviors, reduced suspension rates, improved academic achievement, higher graduation rates, and improved ability to work effectively in a team


Community engagement can be a school-wide or grade level initiative integrated into the classroom guidance program or tackled on a smaller scale through a service club. This type of project affords counselors the opportunity to create an environment where students have a sense of belonging in the school environment, help students understand the importance of short- and long-term goal setting, take ownership of the project through self-motivation and self-direction, practice working cooperatively in a group, form relationships with adults who support success, and explore character traits such as conservationism, loyalty, leadership, and more.


In this post, I will outline 8 steps to create a student-led school-community engagement initiative. I provide an example of a larger scale project, but these steps can, of course, be applied to smaller projects as well.


Students of all ages have the capacity to be engaged community members. Use these 8 steps to energize your students to create school-community engagement.


Identify a need.

This process is 100% student-driven! What is their vision for the community? What would make the community a better place for them to live? Have students think broadly about ideas that will likely turn into long-term projects. Remind students that when it comes to community change, there are no “overnight fixes.” Creating an engaged community takes effort from everyone involved.


Example: Perhaps your students would like for the local park to be a nicer place for families to spend time together.


Identify action steps.

Students determine how they can give life to their vision for the community. Brainstorm at least 3 ways they can take action. Answer the question, “What can we do about this right now?” Let students take the lead on this aspect of the project, and allow student leaders to emerge to lead the discussion. Make sure everyone is given an opportunity to share ideas in order to demonstrate that all members of the community are valued.


Example: Three actionable ways students could make this vision as reality are (1) Clean up the local park, (2) Host a yard sale to raise money to install a playground at the park, and (3) Host a family day or “Grand Re-Opening” of the park.


Calculate costs.

If your students’ vision involves any sort of fundraising, calculate expenses from the outset. These ideas can change as the project takes life, but this step is vital before students move on to step 4.


Example: (1) How much do trash bags and clean up kits cost? (2) How much does a playground cost? (3) What items would you like to have at a Family Day and how much will they cost?


Connect with community leaders.

Once the students have identified ways they can turn their vision into reality, contact local community leaders who can help. As the counselor, reach out by phone and email to let leaders know what the students have in mind. Have students write letters to the community leaders explaining their vision for the community, detailing the action steps they wish to take, and ask for specific support from the leaders. Host a student-led community involvement night, inviting community members to come hear about the students’ plan.


Example: Write letters to (1) the director of your local parks and recreation board about a willingness to partner with them, (2) a local store owner who might be willing to donate trash bags or other clean-up items, (3) parents who might be willing to donate items to a yard sale, (4) the mayor, and any other community leaders who will be interested in the project or will be willing to assist. If your students want to host a community involvement night, have students prepare a presentation, timeline, and speeches, and identify specific ways they can ask the attendees to help (donate money, items, time, etc.).


Note: This process of connecting with community leaders affords many opportunities to integrate your project into the academic curriculum. Involve willing teachers in the process so that students can see how their academic studies directly relate to their roles as community members. Writing letters and preparing speeches for a community involvement night are perfect opportunities for English/Language Arts curriculum integration, and calculating costs for the project can be integrated into the mathematics curriculum.


Gather needed materials.

This, of course, varies depending on the project your students have identified.


Example: (1) Gather trash bags, protective gloves, and trash poles. (2) Collect donation items for a yard sale.


Begin action steps.

This, again, will look different for each group depending on what the school-community engagement project is. Some action steps can occur during classroom guidance or small group time and others will require after school or weekend time. Encourage students to look for ways for they can each use their strengths and talents. This is also a great time to show students that community involvement does not simply mean going to work during your designated hours; being an engaged community member means contributing your own time as well.


Example: (1) Designate a Saturday when students and parents will meet at the park for a clean up day. (2) Spend time organizing and pricing donated items for yard sale. Advertise the yard sale, and eventually, host it!


Students of all ages have the capacity to be engaged community members. Use these 8 steps to energize your students to create school-community engagement.

Measure progress and refocus energy when needed.

If your students are conducting a project that requires collecting money, creating a visual graph of funds earned is a great way to measure progress. If they are contributing volunteer hours to a local organization, a highly visible school-wide log could represent their progress. When progress monitoring shows that students might not meet their original goal, brainstorm ways to refocus and get back on track or make changes to the goal.


Example: What progress is being made toward purchasing playground equipment? Should students choose a less expensive model? Can they purchase additional equipment?


Keep open communication.

Communicate with with involved community members and advertise your efforts. Consider hosting additional information nights in which students can present their progress to the community and re-energize the community for engagement. Students can share their progress and also outline more specific ways the community members can help or be involved. Utilize the school social media pages to keep community members informed of progress and meeting times.


Example: (1) Perhaps a storm occurred and the park needs additional attention. Is there someone available to provide landscaping help? Can more community members meet to plant a small garden in the park? (2) Will a local construction business help with the playground installation? (3) Is a local restaurant willing to contribute food or bring a food truck to an grand opening event?


Celebrate and reflect.

Celebrate your community contribution! Perhaps your project has come to completion or maybe it will span into the next school year. Either way, allow students to reflect on what they have achieved so far and celebrate where they are going. Give students space to reflect on their experiences as community members and their ideas for future community involvement as they emerge as community leaders.


Example: Discuss what went well and what didn’t. Ask students what they would do differently if they did the project again. Discuss what students learned about potential career paths and how this relates to their goals for future community involvement.


Student-led school-community engagement can take flight in many directions and is appropriate at all grade levels. Start with a small group of students who can benefit from increased community engagement to test the waters if you’re not ready for a school-wide or grade level project, and allow students to take ownership of the process. This type of project can help students identify their own strengths and spark interest in community employment as well as bring about positive school outcomes. What community engagement projects have your students done? What does this process look like for you? Let us know in the comments!

Students of all ages have the capacity to be engaged community members. Use these 8 steps to energize your students to create school-community engagement. Students of all ages have the capacity to be engaged community members. Use these 8 steps to energize your students to create school-community engagement.


Back to School, School Culture

These 5 Tips Make It So Easy to Welcome New Students

Whether it is the beginning of the school year or the middle of April, one important role of a school counselor is to make sure that new students feel welcome at your school. Depending on the dynamics of your school, you may receive varying amounts of new students throughout the school year. At my suburban Title 1 school in Ohio, we receive about 40 new students at the beginning of the year.  We also receive an additional 10-15 new students throughout the school year.  Here are 5 tips to welcome new students that have helped prepare students for success at my school.

1) Keep Track of New Students

Every time a new student enrolls at my school, I receive an email from our enrollment coordinator. I created a simple Google Doc to keep track of new students as the emails arrive. In the Google Doc, I create one page for each grade level. Next, I insert a chart that has 3 columns on each page– Name and School, Notes, and Placement. In the Name and School column, I type in the new student’s name and the previous school he or she attended.

The Notes column is used for any information I acquire about the student that would be helpful for classroom placement. This information may come from the student’s records, talking with the previous teacher, an IEP, or discussions with parents. I work with our dean of students to reach out to the previous teacher of each new student. This method is only about 50% successful, as we often do not get our phone calls or emails returned; however, the information we do receive is very valuable, so we always make the attempt.

The third column of the doc is Placement, which is used to type in the new student’s teacher once we finalize our classroom lists. By keeping a Google Doc of new students, it helps us stay organized and collect helpful information that is beneficial for student placements.

2) Plan Ahead for New Students

When new students register at our central office, they are given a packet full of registration information. Inside the packet, we include a flyer about our New Student Orientation. The flyer contains information about the Orientation, as well as contact information for myself, our principal, and our dean. It is common for families to reach out with questions through email during the summer, so it is helpful to give them our email addresses in advance.

What if the new student arrives in the middle of the year?

Our process is a bit different for students who arrive during the middle of the school year. We do not run a formal orientation. Instead, I invite each new family in for a tour prior to the student’s first day of school. One way I plan ahead for new students in the middle of the school year is by creating New Student Folders. I purchased some simple folders from Amazon in our school colors. On the front of the folders, I stick on a label that I created with the online Avery Label Maker. Inside the folder, I include important papers that will help the new family get acclimated with our school, such as:

  1. Most recent school newsletter
  2. Meet the counselor brochure
  3. PBIS brochure and Class Dojo letter
  4. Most recent lunch and breakfast calendars
  5. School year calendar
  6. School supply list
  7. Directions to create a PowerSchool Portal (our online grade card program)
  8. Flyer from our parents’ club

I provide the family with the New Student Folder when they come in for the tour and include a business card so they can contact me with any questions.

3) Plan a New Student Orientation

About one week before school starts, we invite all new families to our school for a New Student Orientation. We create a simple presentation in Google Slides that gives families an overview of our school. I take turns presenting with our dean of students, but also invite our principal, school nurse, and parents’ club president to say a few words. The presentation lasts about 15-20 minutes and then we split all of the new families into small groups for a tour of the school. It is helpful to have very small groups to address questions from the families, so I like to invite a few teachers to help serve as tour guides. The tour is a very personable experience, which helps the new families feel welcome.

After the tour is complete, each group meets back in the cafeteria for a Popsicle treat! Staff members mingle with the new families to address any further questions. We also set out a table including some important information about our school, which allows families to grab any extra information that they need. Our New Student Orientation really helps to give families a great first impression of our school!

4) Connect with New Students

Once the school year begins, I continue connecting with new students to help them feel welcome at our school. During the second week of school, I meet with the new students in each grade level. It is helpful for the new students to get to know one another and it is also beneficial for me to learn more information about each child. During our meeting time, we always start with an ice breaker game. A quick search on Pinterest will give you many options for ice breakers.

My favorite game to play is New Student Jenga, which can be created with my Build Your Own Counseling Game on TPT. This Jenga game asks students though provoking questions in an engaging way. Throughout the game, I jot down any extra info that children share that will help me get to know them better. Students love playing New Student Jenga and they often ask to play again when they visit my office later in the school year! Click on the image below to check out the game on TPT.

Build Your Own Counseling Game

When new students arrive in the middle of the year, I take the time to connect with them a few days after their arrival. I invite them to lunch with me and play an ice breaker game to get to know them better. Sometimes I notice that the new student is having trouble getting acclimated mid-year.  If this is the case, I often schedule check-ins with the student throughout the next few weeks.  I also find a student buddy to connect with the new student.

 5) Introduce New Students to the School

A final step I take to help new students feel welcome is to create a display showcasing all of the new students at the beginning of the year. When I meet with each new student, I snap a picture and have them create a pennant for our New Student Banner. Once I am done meeting with all of the students, I use the pennants to create a display in our main hallway. Not only does this create a welcoming display, but it also helps the returning students get to know all of the new students! During arrival and dismissal, I often catch parents checking out the display, too. I keep the display up for about a month and then return the pennants to each student to take home. If you want to create your own New Student Banner display, check out my FREE resource by clicking the image below.

New Student Banner

By following these 5 tips to welcome new students, you can help new students and families feel welcome at your school. Although it takes a bit of work up front, the steps you take to connect with new students will have a lasting effect. Do you have any favorite tips for new students? Please share your ideas in the comments below!

5 Tips to Welcome New Students

Back to School

How to Have an Organized First Week as a School Counselor

Organized First Week as a School Counselor

Happy Hot Summer, Everyone! I hope you are managing to stay cooler than I am here in Texas. I can’t guarantee working air conditioning, but I can give you a post full of tips for having an organized first week as a school counselor.  We are going to get your counseling office and program set up for the beginning of the school year.

If you are like me, the sight of a disorganized office is overwhelming.  This, combined with the thought of setting up my entire counseling program, can sap all my inspiration and motivation for the rest of the day! To keep us all calm and forward-moving, here are 10 tips for how to have an organized first week as a school counselor. Your program will be in order by the time everyone returns, guaranteed! Read More »

Back to School

3 Organization Tips for a Great Year

3 Organization Tips


Organization is my jam. I may or may not get ridiculously excited about school supplies and organizing systems. I recently starting a grad school program at night and I had more fun than a toddler in a candy store setting up my notebook. But I know not everyone is so geeky inclined. Sometimes others think organized people are so together but, the secret is, I’m lazy. I want to do it once so I don’t have to think about it later. In that spirit, I want to share with you 3 school counselor organization tips that will make your school counselor life easier. Read More »

Back to School

10 Ways to Prepare During the Summer

School Counselor Summer Prep. 10 ways to prepare this summer to ensure their year is off to a great, confident start. #schoolcounselorprep

Summer is finally here and we all have time to breathe and decompress from another whirlwind year of advocating and empowering! If you’re like us, after a week or so of sipping lemonade by the pool, you might be getting the itch to start planning for another successful year. CounselorChelsey and Counselor Keri are here to share 10 things school counselors can do during the summer to prepare for the school year!

Review your data from the year

What programs and initiatives were successful? Where is there room for improvement? Begin looking for new data-driven interventions to address those areas that were not as successful (and celebrate the areas that were!). Use your data to determine which topics you will cover in classroom guidance lessons and small group programs. Read More »

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