This content was originally published by the Longmont Observer and is licensed under a Creative Commons license.
Community Strong—an umbrella initiative of St. Vrain Valley Schools—is a new website platform for local businesses, corporations, non-profits, and organizations to connect with schools in the district.
On the website, partners can post how they are interested in connecting with the schools about classroom speaking, career fairs, mentoring, and essentially any type of activity. If a partner is interested in engaging with a school in that way, they can go to the Community Strong website, they can preview all the content that's on there, and then create a profile that allows them to connect.
“Say I'm a partner of the community, I can go to the website, sign up. When I do that, I'm going to provide some basic contact information. I'm going to give a general schedule of what my availability is. Any kind of affiliations I might have, so that might look like a chamber membership, all my economic development partnership. Any kind of association,” said Matt Wiggins, director of community and business development at St. Vrain Valley Schools.
“Then they go through that process and they create a series of preferences. Then they're in the system, and whenever a school posts something that matches your preferences but with tags, they tag it a certain way, then that user is going to get an email notification. Let them know that, 'Hey, there's this opportunity that exists at this school.' That this person, this business or partner can engage with.”
The website was in development for six months and the platform has now remained public since the start of this 2018/2019 school year—launched in mid-August. Community Strong is an effort to strengthen connections on a platform that exclusively engages partners with schools in SVVSD and is separate from other networking websites.
“LinkedIn is more of a business social profile. It's not really something that would be used for connecting a school. This is more about a school posts a need or an opportunity that they have. You can't really do that with LinkedIn so much,” Wiggins said. “It's a different thing, Craigslist. Craigslist is much different. LinkedIn is much different, and Kickstarter really is more focused, for my understanding of Kickstarter, it is more funding based, crowdsourcing, this isn't like that. This is more about engaging schools and businesses together in partnerships.”
About a year ago, SVVSD engaged with several partners that wanted to start coming into schools and become mentors. Their P-TECH programs were growing in schools like Skyline and those programs required professionals to go in and work with students. That is when they started looking at what type of software needs those organizations had. Instead of schools going out and trying to develop partnerships, they needed a tool to streamline those connections, something easy for both schools and partners to use.
“We’ve always had partnerships within St. Vrain. IBM, for example, has been a big partner of ours. If you go to individual schools, they partner with different organizations the same way that they do now. This is just a tool that makes it a little bit easier for schools who maybe don't have as many partnerships. It is also a tool that we can use to measure the partnerships that we currently have and have always had,” Wiggins said.
The system can also track all the different partnerships, once a connection is made, they can monitor which types organizations are partnering with SVVSD and look at trends. They can see how many hours are being dedicated to certain schools, and then based on a volunteer dollar per-hour system, can get an idea of a valued time for a partner to support a school in a certain way.
“St. Vrain's always had volunteers so to speak. We've always engaged our community to come and participate with schools, parents, grandparents, other community members. We've always tracked that at the school level. This is something that is more systematic,” Wiggins said. “For the time being, it's really geared towards businesses and industry partners, but that's not to say that somewhere down the line that this platform, Community Strong, can be used for all volunteers that we have in St. Vrain.”
Jessica Goldberg of the Longmont Criminal Justice Partnership used the Community Strong website, thought it made the whole process easier, and said she would continue to use it for general inquiries and to stay informed about how to participate in events and needs of SVVSD schools.
“I was pleasantly surprised to get an email inviting me to participate in Community Strong. The first request that I answered from a school was a chance to speak directly to over one hundred students about Restorative Justice as part of their Community Fair. We were there with other community organizations doing great work, such as El Comite and the OUR Center. The event was very well-organized, and students had great questions and comments,” Goldberg said.
Wiggins demonstrated ten different platforms that performed a similar action and exchange as the current website. Galaxy Digital in North Carolina is who St. Vrain ended up going with for their specific service for about $2,500 on an annual subscription. What that gives them is 10 to 15 different schools that they can have on the platform, support annually for the platform itself, and build reporting out of the system, and also with unlimited users and unlimited managers to work with those schools that are in the system.
“This is a pilot year, we're only incorporating high schools at the very moment. High schools and our CTE programs. The Innovation Center is also in the system. The Career Development Center is in the system. I had some slots left over, so I approached three middle schools that partner well, Sunset Middle, Westview Middle and Longs Peak Middle School. So, three middle schools are in there because they have some strong partnerships that we wanted to highlight,” Wiggins said.
“And then I have one slot that's dedicated to the Chamber Student Network. That is an extension of the Longmont Chamber, where they have St. Vrain and Front Range Community College students that partner with them. I offered this as a way for their students to maybe connect with some different business people in the community.”
If everything is successful their plan is to hopefully roll out Community Strong to all SVVSD schools with elementary, middle, and high schools, and all their programs. They have roughly 175 individual users in the system so far and are seeing increased numbers of connections and responses on a month-to-month basis.
“I don't think the concept is new. I've seen it used at the university level for help wanted or volunteering. This might be a new way of thinking about how the software is used when it's very specific to business and industry partners engaging with schools specifically. Up north, in Poudre School District, they have a platform that they're working on with Larimer County, very similar with ours,” Wiggins said.
“The impact that we'd like to see this have is we want to use this platform to strengthen the partnerships that we currently have. And, we want to use it to create new partnerships that we may not have developed yet.”