Community Strong: district website platform builds, represents collaborative community

We all know the adage, it takes a village. But what exactly is that proverbial ‘village’? The long answer may be complex, but the short answer is simple: it’s all about community. When it comes to St. Vrain Valley School District, community is and always has been of the utmost importance. Now we have one more resource that serves to build, reinforce, and highlight the strength or and emphasis upon our community – Community Strong.
 
Launched last August, 2018, to district high schools, the Innovation Center, and the Career Development Center, Community Strong is a community engagement campaign that includes a web platform that facilitates and enhances partnerships between the district and the wider community. “St. Vrain has always partnered well with the community-at-large,” says district Director of Community and Business Development, Matthew Wiggins. “We’ve built relationships on a local level, and also with large, corporate industries. Now we have an opportunity to not just facilitate the best collaborative opportunities, but also to measure the impact.”
 
The way it works, Wiggins explains, is simple and straightforward. Interested partners create a profile through the Community Strong website, noting schools and programs to support, interests and skills, and types of engagement, from classroom presentations, facility tours, to internships. Organizations and schools post their individual interests and needs, and the platform matches schools with interested partners. Individuals and schools receive emails allowing each to explore opportunities.
 
The Community Strong initiative has been wildly successful, particularly given the small sample size, Wiggins says. Through the soft launch, roughly 300 new individual connections have been made between schools and community members. As of this August, Community Strong will be rolled out to all schools and departments, including elementary, middle, and charter. With this rollout, many new exciting partnerships will doubtless be forged. What’s more, these collaborations are steadily bringing about an increasingly dynamic range of benefits for all concerned. 
 
Enhances learning outcomes for students
Through engaging partnerships, real-world examples make learning all the more relevant, and not just when it comes to specific industry expertise. Opportunities to work with and learn from community partners highlight the importance of key skills such as teamwork, communications, and building relationships. Through everything from guest speakers to job shadowing to actual employment, SVVSD students have the world at their fingertips.
 
“We’re connecting schools with businesses and organizations who offer their time as presenters and volunteers, and so much more,” Wiggins says. “There are internships and apprenticeships, too. Over the summer, we successfully partnered with a Boulder-based tech firm to create five paid internships for students at the Innovation Center – the school’s first – and place five other manufacturing students in high-tech apprenticeships. We’re further working on opportunities for students to earn college credit.”
 
All those partnerships serve not only to enhance, but to guide learning. Built programs expose students to community work, empowering them with vision and purpose. They also improve curriculum, aligning the latest industry needs with coursework.
 
Builds a future workforce
“Education and workforce development are so intertwined,” says Erin Jones, Executive Director of Workforce Boulder County, a nonprofit which offers a wide variety of services to job seekers and businesses, including training opportunities, career exploration, and job skills development. “Our missions intersect in so many areas. I utilize the platform knowing it helps streamline the goal of tying our communities together and accelerating our individual organizations.”
 
Oftentimes, work-based learning doesn’t just enhance education, it serves to allow students to complete their education. For example, Workforce Boulder County frequently works with youth who have struggled in traditional classrooms. Alongside work-based learning, Workforce Boulder County supports students in earning their GED. Students gain access to role models and opportunities for growth and success. “Together, we’re building a pipeline of workers who can live here, stay here, and be the talent that industry, and our community, needs,” Jones says. 
 
Sustains and grows our thriving community
Community Strong’s success showcases integral alignment of goals throughout our community. “All businesses and organizations recognize the value St. Vrain brings to our community, impacting quality of life and potential for and development of industry based here,” says Jessica Erickson, Longmont Economic Development Partnership President and CEO. “The question in the past has been, ‘how do we connect and contribute to that’. Community Strong has provided a platform to be that point of connection, for industry and individuals to take advantage of what the district has to offer and also to contribute, to give back.”
 
The Longmont Area Chamber of Commerce is among numerous organizations which have partnered with St. Vrain Valley Schools for many years. Over those years, the Chamber has provided and contributed to a range of student opportunities, explains Kathy Stevens, Business Director of Longmont Area Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber has employed high school interns for committees and events, for instance; Education Committee and Chamber members volunteer in the schools and at district events; Education Committee funds SVVSD’s Doing Democracy Day as well as two high school students half tuition to the Chamber’s Leadership Longmont program; and, fifth graders have had a field trip to the Chamber’s PEAK event the past two years to learn about manufacturing and technology companies in our community. “Businesses being able to offer their expertise to help students grow and learn about business works both ways,” Stevens says. “Students learn about job opportunities they might not have known existed, and businesses have the chance to tell students what they are looking for in a good employee. The Chamber and Education Committee are excited to be part of building that bridge.”
 
Ultimately, Community Strong contributes to a landscape where everyone wins. Interested in contributing, or learning more? Visit the Community Strong website at https://communitystrong.svvsd.org.