It takes a village to teach a child, and this fall, Las Cruces has a new tool to connect the village and the classroom — CommunityShare Las Cruces, a free online “matching” platform that will enable all educators in greater Las Cruces to easily find and connect with community members who can bring specialized knowledge, real-world perspectives, and project-based learning to classrooms.
Imagine middle-school science classes where students, supported by both their teacher and a biology research scientist, experimentally test different composting approaches to see which one might work best for their school; imagine students working with a fashion designer to make clothing out of recycled and reused materials, all while practicing geometry, trigonometry, arithmetic, and the life-skill of sewing; imagine students working with a web developer to program a virtual museum filled with their own projects and those of their classmates . . . All of these projects happened last school year, despite the pandemic, during the pilot launch of CommunityShare Las Cruces within the Las Cruces Community Schools. (Also, you don’t have to imagine the virtual museum; you can visit it at https://sites.google.com/view/the-200-wing.) This fall, thanks to generous funding from the W. K. Kellogg Foundation, the CommunityShare Las Cruces platform is open to teachers and community members throughout the greater Las Cruces area.
The teachers involved in the 2020-2021 pilot project reported that the community partners, and the projects they made possible, helped keep students engaged and learning even through the disruptions caused by Covid-19, a result anticipated by a vast body of research in the learning sciences. As reported by Johns Hopkins University and The Cambridge Handbook of the Learning Sciences (among others), learning outcomes improve when academics and life are connected, when students have the opportunity to work on meaningful projects, and when students have access to positive role models in their community—conditions that can be fulfilled when community partners bring their knowledge, enthusiasm and care to the classroom.
If you are a teacher, you can sign up and find partners who want to serve as mentors, guest speakers, project collaborators and more. If you are a community member–a parent, artist, scientist, retiree, business, nonprofit–who wants to make a difference in our schools, you can sign up as a community partner by describing the skills and life experiences in your online profile. If you have a specific idea in mind, you even can describe lessons/projects, both virtual or in-person, you’d like to offer to teachers and students. Think about all the people who supported you along your life journey; you could be that person today for a young person.
Thanks to seed funding from the Las Cruces Community Schools and generous grants from The Stocker Foundation and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the CommunityShare Las Cruces platform is entirely free to use. Also, thanks to The Stocker Foundation and the El Paso Community Foundation, grant funding can pay for the background checks that all volunteers with the Las Cruces Public Schools must pass before working with students, and teachers can use the platform to apply for locally dedicated mini-grants that can pay for project supplies and/or the time of community partners who aren’t in a position to volunteer.
In alignment with the SUCCESS Partnership principle that we need cross-sector collaboration to improve education, CommunityShare Las Cruces was launched in partnership among the Las Cruces Community Schools, which work to unite community and academic life; CommunityShare, an Arizona-based nonprofit that developed the eponymous CommunityShare software platform; and Cruces Creatives, Las Cruces’ non-profit makerspace, which brings together tools, training, and a supportive, creative community. As the regional host of CommunityShare Las Cruces, Cruces Creatives is both supporting teachers in developing project ideas and looking for opportunities to invite community members to join the platform. Together, we have the opportunity to offer Las Cruces students amazing learning opportunities this year.
There’s also a role in the collaboration for you — join by signing up at www.communityshare.us/las-cruces. If you have questions, feel free to contact us through our website.
Patrick DeSimio is a grant writer and program manager for Cruces Creatives.
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