The SAM Blog

Connecting Students to Community Experts: Key Benefits & Tips

Connecting Students to Community Experts: Key Benefits & Tips

Take a look around your community. If you connect with your neighbors, it won’t be long before you recognize the experts. An engineer may be at the gym or a culinary chef could be a volunteer at your local community center. 

Community experts are excellent teaching resources for elementary educators. Establishing partnerships with these experts can help students make more accessible connections with positive career role models. 

Educators have a lot of pressure these days. They must be experts in every subject, guide students through career exploration, and equip them with 21st century skills. The expectation is unfair and unrealistic. To lighten the load, educators can partner with experts in the community. Together, they can introduce students to STEAM careers, career and technical education (CTE), and jobs of the future. 

How to Build Partnerships with Experts and Students

Connecting elementary students to community experts takes intentionality. It starts with a plan — and making it public.

Share your need with the community

Educators need help from the community, and it is OK to ask. School can feel like a place where only students and teachers belong, but it is time for a change. Regardless of countless PTA meetings or bake sales, convincing community members of their value can still take time.

Educators want the community to show up — but not just for career day. Feel empowered to invite parents and other community members into the classroom. 

Learn more: 3 Ways to Introduce Local Industries to Elementary Students

Recognize the different kinds of experts

While chemists and engineers are considered experts, we discourage you from limiting your search to those with specific job descriptions or recognizable titles. You don’t have to hold a specialized degree to help elementary school students discover something new and exciting. 

Community experts are passionate about a specific area and interest. Avoid isolating members of your community by creating an expert checklist. All helpers are welcome.

Find time for flexibility 

Some of your favorite experts may have non-traditional jobs or work schedules. If you are inviting them to join you for class, be considerate of their time. 

When they arrive, allow them the space to share their passion. You may feel like they are impacting your curriculum, but your kids are in good hands. 

Be open to rearranging your curriculum when your community expert visits. They may share science or math with students in another fun and exciting way. 

Benefits of Bringing in Community Experts

If you wonder how students benefit from seeing new or familiar faces in their community, remember how you felt when meeting someone in your dream career. How did it feel to see someone living out your goals? Learning partners can help lead the way.

Boost confidence and self-esteem

When positive role models affirm students, they gain more confidence. It becomes easier to envision themselves succeeding in a new skill or even a dream STEM job. One of the most important skills is improved communication. 

Connect the dots between classwork and careers

“Will I ever use this skill?” is one of the common questions educators address. When you bring in the engineer who shares how she uses math daily, students can connect the dots more quickly. 

Students gain a better understanding when the culinary chef details the importance of reading directions, understanding fractions, or problem-solving for a recipe. 

Meet the neighbors

Who knows? One of your community experts could one day become your student’s mentor, supervisor, or peer. 

Partnering with the community shows students the job opportunities in the neighborhood. The early relationship-building moments can support local industry. 

How to Find Community Experts

Before you cast a wide net for community partners, remember your request. What kind of partner would best meet the needs of your students? 

Don’t ignore diversity 

When selecting a community partner, consider your students. Nothing is more powerful than seeing someone who looks like you — while succeeding in a role. 

For example, bring in women scientists. Welcome partners with different cultural backgrounds, sexual orientations, or physical abilities. Use these times to break stereotypes and help students dream bigger.

Be clear with expectations

When searching for a community partner, share your intentions early. Community members want to help, and a plan is a perfect way to start. 

Let them know how much time might be required of them, how many students they’ll be connecting with, school rules or guidelines surrounding visitors, and anything else they might need to know.

Talk to parents and colleagues

Parents are busy but don’t underestimate their involvement. Start by emailing parents to share the idea of community experts. You may be surprised at how many responses you receive. Colleagues are no different. See how many suggestions they provide. 

When you are ready to widen your search, consider these resources:

  • Local talks and conferences
  • Local museums
  • Local school district partners 
  • Government agencies
  • National Park Service

Make the Partnership a Lasting Success

Once you have connected with your expert and confirmed their involvement, more work will be done. To be successful, you want your community expert to be known in your classroom. 

Reach out during the school day

Your community expert may pick up when you call. If you run into a tricky question during the day, involve them in your problem-solving. Allow them to provide guidance or offer resources.

Introduce your students

Whether through an email Q&A or a short video, allow your students to meet your community expert. Share pictures or videos, for example. If your community expert ever visits the school, be sure your students would know what to expect.

Adapt to Their Needs

You may strengthen your partnership by being flexible. If your expert can’t meet during the school day, try your best to be accommodating. Use technology and other tools to stay connected. 

Your community expert partnership is a success when your students are engaged. More importantly, a winning outcome is when your experts see their value. Real-world opportunities introduce students to a world of possibilities. STEAM becomes more than an acronym for students. Instead, it becomes a set of real-life role models.

Check out our full collection of resources to learn more about how to collaborate and bring STEAM and STEM educational opportunities front and center for students.