Nearly 30 years ago, a handful of Howard County business leaders realized the unique and important role that they could play in preparing students for the future. These leaders met with the superintendent of Howard County Public Schools to launch the school system’s partnerships program.
Today, more than 1,000 organizations, representing businesses, nonprofits, government agencies, civic clubs, colleges and universities, faith-based groups, military commands, trade associations and professional organizations, partner with the Howard County Public School System (HCPSS). Like their founding predecessors, today’s partners are key to the school system’s ongoing success.
Community involvement helps keep our school system among the best in the nation. In a community where, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, 63% of households do not include residents under the age of 18 years, partnership activities remain of great interest to the community at large. Local businesses and organizations understand that the excellence of our schools is essential to Howard County’s vitality and economic prosperity, and their support helps to ensure that our community is an attractive place to live.
What Constitutes a Partnership?
HCPSS partnerships are strategically designed and implemented educational relationships that offer significant benefits to all participants. As with other relationships, partnerships develop in a variety of ways. School and program administrators may seek a partner to support educational initiatives. Likewise, community organizations interested in partnering often reach out to a specific school or contact the HCPSS Partnerships Office. The Partnerships Office communicates partnership opportunities to schools and facilitates system-wide partnership efforts.
The HCPSS has found that successful, rewarding and sustainable partnerships have the following characteristics.
• Good match, with aligned interests and objectives for both partner and school
• Well planned, with defined, specific activities and responsibilities for all participants
• Supported with resources, allocating sufficient people, budget, time and other resources to allow the partnership to succeed
• Ongoing communication, in both directions, which is the cornerstone of a successful relationship
• Evaluation and evolution, through regular evaluation of the partnership for effectiveness, to adapt to changing needs and circumstances
Most HCPSS partnerships involve a donation either of human resources or of goods and services. Many partnerships bring industry experts into the schools for activities that are as varied as the partners themselves. Some provide real-world applications for the information taught in the classroom; others tutor and mentor students, speak about careers or provide industry insight to enhance school curriculum. Still others serve on task forces, school planning councils and other decision-making teams.
Partners help the HCPSS in some likely and unlikely ways. Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab, an original HCPSS partner, provides expertise to both students and teachers through intern/mentor relationships. Each March, McDonald’s of Howard County helps the HCPSS get the word out by putting “Register Now for Kindergarten” flyers in each Happy Meal bag. Howard County middle and high school students are becoming fierce competitors at regional and national debate tournaments because of the preparation and support they receive from Capitol Debate.
Additionally, the National Security Administration’s Mathematics Education Partnership Program brings NSA scientists into schools as math tutors, research project mentors, or guest speakers on mathematics, cryptology and science. And each year, W.R. Grace and other local businesses provide employees to serve as judges for competitions such as Science Fairs and History Day.
Partners who donate goods and services also enhance the educational experience. The Columbia Triathlon Association recently partnered with the HCPSS to introduce elementary, middle and high school students to the health and lifestyle benefits of triathlon (swim, bike and run) during physical education instruction.
Elementary students learn positive savings habits with in-school banks made possible by partnerships with several local banks. Middle school students practice budgeting and managing money through a financial literacy simulation provided by Junior Achievement of Central Maryland. The Sheraton Columbia Town Center Hotel hosts the annual HCPSS Partnerships Celebration and many partnership-signing events.
Partnerships offer benefits to all participants. They help prepare today’s students for tomorrow, extend the classroom into the community, engage community members in meaningful school involvement and provide valuable resources and opportunities to enhance teaching and learning.
Partners benefit from increased visibility and recognition for valued community service and by helping students and educators develop a better understanding of workplace needs and expectations. Partners also gain a greater understanding of public education and the rewards and challenges of teaching.
Schools benefit from the additional human, material and financial resources provided to expand educational opportunities; the technical assistance in planning and implementing school programs; and the opportunities for staff development and ideas for innovative approaches to teaching and learning. Partnerships also reinforce the importance of education to the entire community.
It is easy to become a partner with local schools, and the rewards can be great. For more information, visit www.hcpss.org/aboutus/partnership.
Mary Schiller is a manager with the Partnerships Office at the Howard County Public School System. She can be reached at 410-313-6655 or email@example.com.