Due to direct relationships and intimate understandings, resident philanthropic organizations are often well-positioned to rally the communities they serve to provide solutions to local challenges, creating valuable partnership opportunities between non-profits, cities, and school districts. By integrating unique engagement efforts into school organizations – teachers, principals, architects, engineers, and everyone in between can help make educational institutions a success from the community core outward to support positive 21st century plans. This concept is not new, but one that is intimately guiding a local Southern Minnesota group, Project for Teens (P4T).  A look into P4T’s mission and model provides translatable opportunities across the education market, and serves as a powerful example of how supporting local philanthropy efforts can help build communities.

Opportunity + Strength

P4T is a volunteer service learning program that involves approximately 125 students, grades 10-12, from five Greater Mankato area high schools. P4T trains peer leaders to share messages that promote healthy decision making with 6-8th grade students. Topics include safe sex, bullying, abstinence, drugs and alcohol, refusal skills, and body image. P4T also hosts community events to provide tips on how parents can discuss these issues with their children.

Synergies Create Potential

Many school districts seek volunteers to enrich student learning and strengthen the partnership between families, communities, and the schools. While these philanthropic efforts benefit the students and causes they support, they also help strengthen ties between communities and districts, creating a structure for success.

Project for Teens mentors
The P4T mentors gathered together for a training last fall. (Photo courtesy of P4T)

As more schools realize that classroom and district spaces of the past only lend themselves to a small percentage of students’ true learning spaces, we are seeing schools transform into collaborative and flexible personalized learning institutions. Who better to shape these schools than the families they affect most? Residents want to see their districts succeed, and as these transformations happen, can be a vital resource for feedback. By bringing community members together with everyday users of the space, a shared understanding and vision is created for how the school can be a community resource. Whether districts are planning deferred maintenance, remodels, or referendums, this synergy creates healthy and vibrant schools and an investment in the future.

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Meet Kevin Bills AIA, LEED AP BD+C

Kevin serves as an architect at ISG, aiming to understand the goals for each project by first thoroughly listening to the client’s needs and then carrying out design and project...