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Partnerships pay off for colleges and K12 schools

Facing limited resources, school leaders often have to get creative.

The best school leaders are open to any ideas that can increase student achievement. And they understand the value of collaboration.

Of course, collaboration among students, parents, employees, and school board members is vital to a school’s success. But many leaders also understand the importance of partnerships outside of their schools — working with local businesses, nonprofits, and other service providers to achieve their goals and improve academic outcomes.

Schools with large low-income populations, for instance, have found these partnerships invaluable to make sure families have their basic needs met, and to ensure that students can focus on their education.

Now, schools are starting to understand the power of partnering with higher education institutions. Whether it’s state universities or local community colleges, schools are finding that these partnerships can pay big dividends.

Experimenting with cutting-edge tech
In Pittsburg, Penn., a K12-higher ed partnership is helping develop next generation ed-tech.

In August 2015, Carnegie Mellon University installed the CMU LearnLab at Montour High School — part of a partnership between the university and Montour School District.

As Montour’s Director of Innovation, Justin Aglio reports in EdSurge, the CMU LearnLab lets K12 teachers and university researchers experiment with new teaching strategies and technologies.

In one project, students in a fifth-grade class helped evaluate new math software. By working together with the software, students’ fraction skills improved significantly. At the same time, the software developers were able to monitor the students and make improvements to the product.

Other projects included experimentation with virtual reality in the classroom and online activities that help students learn chemistry.

In the end, writes Aglio, the partnership works because it’s mutually beneficial: “Teachers shouldn’t have to engage in experiments alone. Researchers shouldn’t have to make assumptions about the classroom. Why not try out a partnership in your own district — and close that gap?”

Inspiring new career paths
Further east in Pennsylvania, Penn State University’s School of Medicine has partnered with Harrisburg-area high schools and other community organizations in the Early Preparation and Inspiration for Careers in Biomedical Sciences, or EPIC, program.

After seeing K12 students’ interest in biomedical research drop, Penn State’s Cancer Center in Harrisburg began working with five area high schools to develop programs aimed at inspiring students to consider a biomedical research career. The program’s administrators also hope to attract broader diversity to the field.

Penn State representatives offer workshops, classroom challenges, and other contests to spur student interest. They also work with counselors to implement new career assessment and planning tools.

Improving the transition to college
Perhaps no higher education institutions are in a better position to partner with K12 districts then local community colleges.

South Texas College, a community college in McAllen, Texas, has “among the most developed ties to local high schools of any community college in the nation,” according to Paul Fain of Inside Higher Ed.

Seeing that incoming students were unprepared for college and often needed to move to remedial courses, South Texas College introduced dual enrollment programs with 68 partner high schools across Texas. Students in these programs take free classes at the community college in place of their high school courses. Credits from those classes can be used towards the student’s degree after they graduate high school.

The result? The dual enrollment programs, along with other efforts, have resulted in a 17-percent drop in remedial placements, according to Fain.

Says South Texas College’s President Shirley A. Reed: “The high schools have accepted responsibility for college readiness. Now, we share in the responsibility.”

Does your district partner with higher ed institutions? What programs do you offer? Tell us in the comments.

Want to know what kinds of partnerships will help your community? Start a conversation.