CommunityShare: The Human Library of Books
By JOSH SCHACHTER
As our schools, country and world face massive uncertainty, we need to develop adaptive solutions that put relationships, resilience and relevance at the center of learning. Relationships between caring adults and young people centered around real-world learning experiences nurture resilient, thriving youth and communities.
CommunityShare was founded by artists, educators, designers and students to ensure that all students, regardless of zipcode, have equitable access to the social, intellectual, cultural and creative capital in their community. We strive to democratize connectedness. The reality is that who you know shape one’s future, as much as what you know, in today’s network-based world. Community partnerships expand “the who” or their social capital, by allowing students and educators to tap a wealth of real-world expertise and support through a network of caring adults. According to Harvard researcher Dr. Robert Putnam, social capital is a critical predictor of educational achievement and economic success, regardless of a student’s socioeconomic background. This is particularly paramount from an equity perspective, as low-income youth have fewer connections outside of their immediate family and community than their wealthier peers. This puts youth at a disadvantage in pursuing opportunities for advancement in the labor market and society.
To create a future of learning grounded in equity and justice, we need to activate our communities in the solution. CommunityShare provides a direct way for individuals and organizations to support our educators and learners and contribute to the civic health of our communities. By personally engaging the community, we can build the collective awareness and public will among a broad diversity of constituents to advocate for equity and justice in education. Advocacy is borne from personal connections and CommunityShare can provide meaningful engagements that inspire personal agency and collective change across the country.
To realize this vision, CommunityShare developed an online platform that matches PK-12 and out-of school educators and learners with community partners who serve as mentors, project collaborators, content-area consultants, guest speakers, field trip hosts and more. Some think of the platform as a “human library” that empowers educators and learners to tap into local “human books” of wisdom and experience in their community. Community partners – STEM professionals, artists, entrepreneurs, parents, and organizations – create online profiles to indicate the real-world experiences, skills and resources that they would like to share with educators and learners. Educators post “requests” (e.g. project ideas) and the platform automatically finds community partners whose real-world experiences match the request, and then educators can message and schedule directly with the partner. Through virtual and in-person learning experiences with community partners, students become more engaged in school and their community because of the real-world relevance, discover new career possibilities and expand their access to social capital and caring adults.
We encourage you to watch our 4 minute video to see the impact of our work in action: https://vimeo.com/262684730.
Since CommunityShare launched in 2015 in Tucson, Arizona, over 12,000 PK-12 students have engaged with scientists, artists, business leaders, parents, academics, nonprofits, and retirees through school-community partnerships. More than 700 educators at 120+ schools and over 500 community partners have joined the CommunityShare network in the greater Tucson region.
Through surveys and other evaluation instruments, we have documented a range of impacts, including increased student engagement, greater real-world understanding of careers, changes in educator pedagogy, expanded social capital, and greater access to community resources.
Here are a few of the outcomes our survey data has revealed:
- 88% of students indicated CommunityShare increased their understanding of the real-world application of content they are learning in school
- 77% of students reported their CommunityShare experience increased their understanding of careers in a “significant” or “life-changing” way
- 97% of educators indicated that CommunityShare increased student engagement and ownership of their own learning
- 100% of educators increased their social capital – community connections & relationships
We have also received extensive qualitative data from educators, students, parents and community partners, such as these:
- “Students who have struggled all year to complete lesson projects were engaged, creative, and thinking about how to solve problems in their community…Thank you CommunityShare for making it possible!” – Educator
- “CommunityShare is an essential tool for curriculum planning. CommunityShare gives my students and me access to professional resources in Tucson that make what they learn in school more meaningful, relevant, and memorable.” – Principal
- “I never knew how cool glass blowing could be. It was amazing to be able to be open to what the glass was doing. I also loved learning how to write a business plan for my own studio one day. I know what I want to do when I get older.” – Student
- “It was truly moving to see my daughter’s eyes light up as engineering careers unfolded in front of her on our fieldtrip to Creative Machines’ design and fabrication studio. We would have never connected to Creative Machines without CommunityShare.” – Parent
- “I have one student who never participates in class. She is usually sullen and withdrawn. She loved this project and was the first one to complete it. She was also excited to share what she had done with others.” – Educator
- “CommunityShare is the bridge we have been missing between educators and the vast resources of experience and practical knowledge available in the community. It gives people like me an opportunity to invest my years of experience into the next generation of innovators, creators and leaders.” – Community Partner
- “I now feel closer to the kids and teachers in my community of south Tucson. CommunityShare is helping people make connections to one another in their local communities. This gives us opportunities to break down prejudices, to see each other for who we are, unique people with unique histories.” – Community Partner
CommunityShare’s impact has attracted national and global attention. In 2017 CommunityShare was selected from over 200 applicants as one of 12 civic ventures to participate in the national Points of Light Foundation’s CivicX Accelerator. In 2018, 2019 and 2020, CommunityShare was recognized by the Finnish nonprofit HundrED and their academy of 150 academics, educators, innovators, and funders from 50+ countries as one of the 100 most impactful education innovations. We were recently highlighted by Insights Success magazine as one of the top 10 most “disruptive edtech solutions” in 2020.
Due to the our impact and global media attention, we have been contacted by educational organizations in 20 states and five counties about expanding our work to their communities.
Adopt & Adapt
Cities, counties, school districts, and regional educational organizations can adapt CommunityShare to meet their needs. We work with “anchor partners” in new communities who want to use the CommunityShare platform in a variety of ways, from connecting industry professionals with teachers and students to support work-based learning opportunities to connecting artists to classrooms to support artist residencies. Each anchor partner will need a local staff person who can steward their learning ecosystem, which entails recruiting community partners and educators and monitoring activity on the online platform dashboard. Though not essential, we do highly recommend each new community to develop a community of practice for educators committed to community-engaged learning. We provide each community with our online platform, technical support and one year of personalized, implementation coaching/capacity building.
CommunityShare is a systems change approach, as you are engaging an entire community in the education system. We recommend that communities commit to at least 3 years to the implementation process, though shorter-term impacts can be seen immediately.