In many cases, the high school(s) is the hub of the community. This can be the case in a large community with several schools as well. In order to maximize support of the school’s events, it is essential for the school district to work with community organizations to embrace all of the opportunities available.
First, it is essential for schools to work with town celebrations. If the celebration is the middle of a sports season, schools should avoid scheduling anything on that day or weekend. Work with community planners to incorporate your high school event in the festivities.
As an example, if it is a summer event, host a baseball or softball game within the community. If it is a winter event, host the wrestling or basketball game and have an “alumni” night. By hosting an event, attendance should rise for both the high school event and the town celebration.
Scheduling a school event opposite a community event can lead to a conflict. A school’s activities director cannot please all of the people all of the time. Games have to get in, and if the weather is nice, play! However, as a community liaison between the school and the public, it is important to show good faith in your attempt to support activities, the community and the school. Communicate the possibility of a reschedule and offer to have it earlier so people will be back in time. This would be a great example of compromise.
Schools should also work with area churches and other places of worship when scheduling events. Although not all needs can be accommodated, providing schedules allows for a good rapport with the school.
In order to get to know leaders in the community, the school could host an annual meeting in the fall. The activities director should be able to share practice schedules and what nights are “non-event” nights. Schools could provide leaders of churches/ places of worship a pass to high school events. This encourages these individuals to attend high school events and lets them know the school values their needs.
The goal is for schools to build relationships with community members. Another suggestion is to tap into the senior citizens centers. Schools could host a “Questions for the Athletic Director” coffee hour and let them have a voice. They might be interested in a printed schedule of concerts for the year. The activities director can learn some history and gain new supporters by being approachable and answering questions. Set a time limit and have a topic ready to discuss to allow for redirecting conversation as needed.
Another avenue of engagement with the community would be to meet with members of different ethnic groups. This would be a meeting devoted to listening. It would allow for the activities director to understand the culture and the expectations of the students.
The activities director could share how the school’s activities could accommodate the culture and build participation. The activities director should embrace all cultures and try to understand the obstacles that students may be facing.
Getting to know the local business owners is also important – especially since they are asked to support activities through fundraisers. Giving these individuals a voice and allowing them to be heard will build that bridge with the school. They might have some good fundraising ideas. They also might be interested in student workers, so providing an activity schedule will allow them to staff the fast food restaurants at peak times before a game bus departs or after hosting a school event.
The schools should also be in touch with the local veterans’ group. These individuals can provide an instant sense of pride and support. The group also can provide opportunities for a school’s teams to be humbled by meeting people who give their time to the country. It is a win-win for the teams and the veterans.
Another key group to connect with would be the early childhood parents. Letting them know what is available within the district for future opportunities for their children is a great idea. Attend an Early Childhood and Family Event and listen to obstacles that young families are facing. The activities director could provide a Young Family Night at a game, although consideration should be given for what night works best for families. An example would be to plan a youth wrestling night at a varsity match on a Friday night, so kids can sleep in if they are up too late.
Groups within each community vary, so there is no way to mention everyone. Tap into the elderly, the young and everyone in between. The goal is to build relationships and connections, to build support for the activities and school.
Why is this community support essential? Many times, the activities director becomes the face of the school district. Support for what the activities director does is important. When there is controversy, the public will trust this key leader. When there is a need for the district to ask for a referendum, the public will want to help the school. Actually, just feeling the support of the community makes the job much better.
Community involvement can be a tricky thing. It opens the school up to a world of complaints and disgruntled citizens. However, it also opens up a true understanding of the community. Only with this understanding, can the school embrace what is needed to create an environment of good sportsmanship, citizenship and camaraderie.
Lisa Myran-Schutte, CAA, is the athletic/activities director at Pine Island (Minnesota) High School after serving in a similar capacity at Houston (Minnesota) High School for several years. She is a member of the High School Today Publications Committee.