Cooperation with local communities

By Oktawia Gorzeńska, Principal of Gimnazjum nr 1 w Gdyni

Cooperation of schools with local communities is key to effective learning and exemplary prosocial mindset of students, as well as of the whole school community. The quicker educational leaders believe in the power of this cooperation, the better for schools and all interested parties. Local community can not only support the learning process in a real and interactive way (e.g. through events, workshops, location-based games) but above all work together towards social change by listening closely to its people, setting goals, planning and putting things in motion.

At Gimnazjum nr 1 w Gdyniwe, we create conditions favourable to the development of all sides – students, staff and parents. We create an inspirational environment, supportive, challenging, demonstrating active participation and cooperation with local community, including school leavers. Above all we invest in relationships, creating them on various levels: student—student, student—teacher, teacher—teacher, parent—teacher, parent—parent, school—local community. We do this by organising formal meetings, such as tutor—parents meeting, with everyone sitting in a circle to evoke the spirit of dialogue and partnership. We run classes where the importance of learning through cooperation is stressed. There are also informal meetings, such as workshops, special days or whole weeks, sleepovers at school, trips, city games, and participation in cultural events run by the local community or the city. 

Another important aspect is creating space for encouraging initiatives and implementation of individual projects. For this purpose, we’ve created a box of inspiration, a rope of ideas and Hyde Park wall, to help students put forward their ideas. Every idea is discussed thoroughly and, if approved, it is implemented. Teachers can exchange their ideas in a social media group, after school meetings and at the knowledge café, where they work in groups on plans and recommendations for a year to come. Parents can share their ideas with tutors and senior members of staff during formal meetings, duties and workshops, where they cooperate with students and school staff. All these elements contribute to the feeling of communal responsibility for school, take a close look at the needs of the community, learning the art of dialogue, compromise, decision making, as well as learning from its own mistakes. Thanks to this, school is close to real life. 

School is even closer to real life through cooperation with wider community—district council, companies, associations and local people. Local associations and organisations whose job it is to work towards wellbeing of its community, become partners in many enterprises, geared towards social change and perfecting of social competences. Some time ago our students became school guides during Gdynia Festival Open House, where they created the route of the visit and guided tours themselves. They really felt like the hosts of our school, sharing their passion with others. 

Soon we are going to start two major projects of cooperation with the local community. It will involve allotments and companies from Gdansk (we will be implementing an innovative method called “hatchers” created by University of Turku, introduced to our school by University of Gdansk). This project will focus on the elderly owners of the allotment plots, who no longer have strength to perform all gardening activities. Volunteer students do that work for them and, at the same time, learn something about gardening. Another great benefit will be the dialogue between generations. 

Project “hatchers” focuses on cooperation between students and companies, in this case restaurants, and their problem with food waste. Groups of students will learn methods and elements of coaching and mentoring, and investigate the problem with food waste in chosen restaurants. Based on their findings they will prepare a set of solutions for those companies, learning at the same time about legal capabilities in the city council and other institutions responsible for food waste management. Working on this project will teach them new competences, putting theory into practice as well as strong sense of making a difference.

Modern school should be looking for new solutions in order to create environment that is alert to its own needs and the needs of others. This environment should be reflexive, responsible, innovative, creative in problem solving and, above all, cooperating with local communities because they need their active residents to change it for the better.