Hood River Middle School (HRMS) -- formerly the location of Hood River High School -- has been a gathering spot for Hood River, Oregon, since 1927. This has connected us to community partners, raised money for our school, and strengthened our students' connection to their community, showing them that learning continues outside of K-12 education. If you want your school to become the hub of your community, here are three steps to get started.
1. Make Your School Facilities Available to the Public
Hood River County School District fulfills the role of adult education and also parks and recreation for our community. All schools are open for public use and may be rented for a nominal cost through our district office. The first step toward making your school a community hub is a district-level decision. These decisions, typically made with school and district administrators, require board policies that can be turned into procedures. It's important to involve the district for help with management and legal issues. These people will act as the liaison between your school and the community, take care of rental contracts, and connect with you about scheduling.
Once you have the foundation in place to get started, decide on what spaces you want made available to the public, and how you want to make them available. We rent out our auditorium, athletic fields, and classrooms for community use.
Our auditorium seats over 1,100 people. We have hosted speaking events, funerals, church services, town halls, visits from politicians, and a multitude of concerts and cultural events. I can almost guarantee that every incoming sixth-grade student and his or her family has been to our school on multiple occasions, creating a sense of familiarity to ease them into our campus when they arrive as students.
Our classrooms are used to teach classes through our district’s Community Education program -- ranging from tax preparation and herbal medication to Excel and yoga. Setting up procedures and rules are essential. For example, we get frequent requests for weekend classes, and we have rules in place that require a staff member to be in the building during that time, which costs additional money. Having a structure in place helps minimize conflicts and misunderstandings, such as community members leaving trash in a classroom or rearranging furniture. Proactively communicating expectations is essential.
Your Athletic Fields
Our fields are used by adult and youth sporting teams, and HRMS has been the host to our community's farmers' market -- the Gorge Grown Food Network Farmers' Market -- for the past 12 years. From April through November, the market brought thousands of people to our campus every Thursday.
2. Let Your Community Know That Your School Is Available to Them
Our district has opened the school doors for public use since the 1980s. Our small community is aware of this practice, and the most frequent question that I receive is whom to contact and what papers to fill out for renting the space. Information is posted in our community education bulletin and also on the Hood River County School District website. I recommend placing information in a newsletter, the local newspaper, and social media to spread the word if you're thinking about starting this practice. Word will move quickly!
3. Create Partnerships With the People Renting Your School Spaces
These events often yield powerful partnerships that create many direct and indirect benefits for our school. Here are three examples of how we developed partnerships with the people using our school to benefit our students.
Get donations for your school.
This year marks the 40th anniversary that the Hood River Lions Club has performed The Follies at our HRMS auditorium. The Follies is a satirical variety show and charity event written and performed by members of this all-local, volunteer group. Five years ago, the Lions donated approximately $10,000 to HRMS for a new stage lighting system in our auditorium. When suggesting partnerships to community members, come up with ideas that benefit all parties. This donation helped our drama department, all community members who rent our auditorium, and the Lions' annual variety show.
Get curriculum ideas for your classroom.
The Gorge Ukulele Festival was held at HRMS for about five years. The festival hosted well-known performers for large concerts and a series of workshops that attracted both locals and folks from around North America. The organizers provided a free concert for our kids, a couple of teachers took classes, and a company donated 20 free ukuleles that are still used in our period six enrichment ukulele class!
Connect your students to the community.
Our students participated in the Farmers' Market every Thursday. Our Food and Conservation Science Program (FACS) sold produce grown in our school garden by our kids, and our school bands performed to thousands of people at the market. Gorge Grown also became a sponsor of the HRMS Community Kitchen, which our kids in the FACS program use to learn about and cook student-grown food.
In what ways have you made your school a central part of the community? Let us know in the comments.