Neighbourhood Learning Centres
Any B.C. school can be a Neighbourhood Learning Centre (NLC) – in fact, your school may already have the basic elements. They’re an inviting place where everyone can access education, community services, recreation and culture. Every centre is unique – offering programs and services that are most relevant to its community members.
Start a Centre
Neighbourhood Learning Centres support vibrant communities. Many are developed as a revenue neutral way to take advantage of existing school facilities and resources that are unused. Integration of the regular school day programs and community programs may become almost seamless. For example, some programs are offered in the evenings or on weekends – using vacant classroom spaces.
Public engagement and forming partnerships are vital steps to offering programs and services that meet specific community needs – for example, child care services, seniors programs or a farmers’ market.
Here are a few ideas about how to use your local school or community facility space:
- Learning hubs
- Meeting or storage space for community groups
- Office space for partners and agencies offering programs
- Recreation programs and activities
- Community and continuing education programs
- College or university programs
- Fine arts and cultural programs
- Social, leadership and homework programs
- Programs and clubs for parents and children (e.g. early learning programs, preschool, child care, family programs, youth drop-in centres, summer programs, day camps, Boys and Girls Clubs, YMCA, Neighbourhood Houses, Big Brothers / Big Sisters)
- Community celebrations or other large gatherings
- Community garden and compost centre
- Community café
- Aboriginal Friendship Centre and First Nations council space
- Emergency services site
- Space for service groups, neighbourhood associations, non-profit organizations or regional libraries
- Space for health networks and practitioners
- Employment centres
- Seniors programs and support services
- Curricular support
How to Integrate
Integrating community programs and services with your school’s regular program delivery takes a bit of planning and ongoing management. Some schools have used this approach:
- Offer the right programs: Schools and agencies partner to offer programs services for children, youth and families. Other programs and services are offered based on input from program participants, school staff and service providers.
- Consider your partners: Integrate local agencies at the school district governance level. Invite them to provide programming suggestions or services for students. Some examples could include local government, school districts, RCMP, government ministries, mental health organizations, or charities.
- Have an agreement in place: The NLC Shared Use Agreement Guide. will help you negotiate a formal agreement that clearly outlines everyone’s responsibilities for joint program planning, funding and evaluation. This can also help minimize tension over sharing facilities.
- Create a governance model: Governance typically includes an advisory group, council or non-profit society that has representation beyond parents and school staff, with a wide range of community people as well as local or regional service providers. Ideally, the society has charitable tax status, which allows access to a wide range of funding opportunities.
Here are some success stories of Neighbourhood Learning Centres that offer community school programming:
- The City of Surrey, the Surrey School District and the United Way have come together to form the Community Schools Partnership, which provides community services and funding for social programs used by people of all ages.
- The Harewood Family of Community Schools and the Cedar Community Schools in Nanaimo are groups of schools that have partnered together to offer programming for specific geographical areas. Each group of schools has a coordinator and at least one elementary and one secondary school. This means students can access community education from early learning to Grade 12 and beyond.
- Harwin Elementary School in Prince George has taken an outreach approach to helping urban Aboriginal parents feel more comfortable about being involved in school activities. School administrators and teachers make a point of welcoming parents outside the school and have created a gathering room for parents where they can access resources and services.
- Adapting to a changing community is how Likely Elementary Junior School is finding success. It’s their goal to offer educational opportunities to everyone in the community, regardless of age. This means the school is used year-round for things like public health services, job-related training, public library, arts and literacy programs, and recreational activities.
Connect with Others
Becoming a Neighbourhood Learning Centre can, at times, seem overwhelming so reach out to others for support.
- Bring together a working team: The working team can serve as a clearing house for all ideas proposed by partners and community members, ensuring that the school holds to its vision for the NLC. Include individuals on your team with strong community connections – this will help a great deal at the planning stage.
- Work with your board of education: Boards of education are instrumental in helping NLCs get started. Working closely with partners and organizations, they’re adept at helping to find unique and innovative ways to create schools with community use in mind.
- Generate ideas: Host meetings and roundtable discussions or conduct surveys to find out from community members what their thoughts are about local needs. This will help you brainstorm a wide range of ideas and thoughts about using your school facility.
- Pick the best: After gathering input from the community, review all options and determine the best ‘fit’ for your school.
A few tips on strategizing ways to involve your community in this process:
- Share leadership and collaborate: This can be as simple as discussing the future of the school with key community members or leaders. Create a common vision of how the school can be a greater part of the community and work together to implement it.
- Stay connected: Once you’ve clearly defined the plan for your Neighbourhood Learning Centre, find partners and community members whose missions overlap in some way. Use selective decision-making to develop a coherent program – know which partners to include.
- Evaluate your progress: Regularly check-in to see how your engagement strategy is working. Are your partners helping achieve your vision? Is the engagement strategy succeeding in sustaining working partnerships? If not, it’s time to revise your strategy.
- Tell your story: Get the word out about what’s working. Submit a story or picture to your local newspaper. Publicising a few concise stories or pictures can bolster your school’s image and spark public conversations about the benefits of partnering with your school.