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  • Donate space in your school to local community groups

    Municipalities around the world share many of the same concerns. To tackle two of them—limited meeting space options for community groups, and lack of involvement in the school system by the larger community—a handful of government agencies in Seattle is partnering to provide one common solution.

    Setting: Schools

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    Organization/people involved

    Jerry DeGrieck, Interim Community Health Services Deputy Division Director, Public Health, Seattle & King County
    Seattle, Washington, U.S.A.
    and
    Kathy Johnson, Facility Operations Program Manager, Seattle Public Schools
    Seattle, Washington, U.S.A.

    What they did

    In 2012, the City of Seattle’s Office for Education, Mayor Mike McGinn, local school districts, and Seattle Parks and Recreation got together to tackle two local concerns: limited meeting space options for community groups, especially during evening hours, and a perceived lack of involvement in the school system by the larger community. Their response was a program called “Evening Community Meetings in School Libraries,” which opened school libraries to local groups for evening meetings at almost-free rates. The program has been a boon for groups (who need low-cost space) and schools (who’ve seen an uptick in the community’s interest in their work).

    A first iteration of the program had been started years earlier but faltered when financial pressure on school districts increased. The program now in place refined the original parameters to better meet everyone’s needs. Now, every public school library in Seattle is available for use by non-commercial community and neighborhood groups between the hours of 6:00 and 9:00 pm most Mondays through Thursdays. Groups can request the space online—first-come, first-served—for a fee of $15 per meeting.

    How you can do it

    Impact

    “We haven’t done a lot of data tracking with this program,” says Jerry, “because we don’t have specific number goals we’re trying to meet. We just want to keep seeing interest in the program, which we are.” “Also, we’ve heard fewer complaints from community groups about their lack of meeting space, so ‘no news is good news’ in that way,” Kathy says.

    Big takeaways

    “Particularly if a school district hasn’t had something like this, it might take a while for everyone to embrace it,” advises Jerry. “Be patient, and be nice to everyone. Talk with everyone who has a problem about how to solve it—don’t say they’re wrong or throw in the towel. Focus on the win-win. Point out—nicely!—that these buildings are community assets; schools know that too, and they will want to partner. Of course there might be times when you don’t have success, but most of the time you will. And remember that no one’s going to get everything they want, but that it is possible to find a win-win situation.”

    Kathy says, “Really look at what your goals are. We got big pushback from the district about the cost of doing this, and it took our director some creative thinking to get around that, but that wound up being the linchpin: he understood the dynamics of the city, saw this unmet need, and devised a way to do it with no negative cost impact to the district. We have 600,000 people in Seattle and only 50,000 school-age kids—that’s a small percentage! So designing this program at no cost to schools was paramount to success.”

    Resources

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