Fostering Family, School, and Community Partnerships

Published: September 16, 2021 | Author: Savannah Byers | Read Time: 8 minutes

FLHD students at SUUWith an emphasis on trauma-informed practice, Fostering Family, School, and Community Partnerships (FLHD 4350) is an upper-division Southern Utah University course that explores project-based learning and community engagement. This course is required for elementary education majors, but it is also well-suited for anyone interested in working with children and communities in any capacity.

“I recently read some research that states teachers have a low stress job. I don’t buy it,” said Maren Hirschi, assistant professor of family life and human development. “Teachers have a high stress job and don’t get nearly enough credit for that; any teacher in service who is doing their job will tell you that.”

Professor Hirschi has been teaching FLHD 4350 since fall of 2019. She enjoys seeing her students exceed expectations in pursuing new and exciting projects each semester.

“Anyone who works with children and families, teacher or otherwise, becomes a kind of first responder,” Professor Hirschi continued. “While they may not wear uniforms or respond to 911 calls, they do have a front row seat to the various forms of trauma that children and families experience and are often the first to intervene. My goal for this course is to prepare professionals working with children and families for those experiences. The community engagement aspect of this course is intended to be an intervention. Emotional and psychological healing almost always happens within relationships. When we build community, we foster relationships which in turn support happy and healthy people.”

The course focuses on methods for family engagement through the method of trauma-informed practice, and ends with a final project combining these elements with a student choice, community engagement project.

“Students have completed so many different kinds of projects,” said Professor Hirschi. “My students have expressed many, many benefits of and lessons learned from this assignment. Something I have observed that I did not anticipate was that as my students have completed this assignment, the awareness of needs in the community has increased for individuals within the community as well as among my students.”

The final project is hefty and takes the entire semester to plan and complete. Students work with a community partner (i.e., a school, hospital, shelter, etc.) to complete an engaging project of their choosing. This project encourages much more than community service between students and partners, it fosters growth, connection, and awareness between SUU students and the community.

In previous semesters, students have completed a variety of projects:

Appreciating Healthcare Workers

Collaborating with students at Three Peaks Elementary School, Maren Nielsen, Tallie Chamberlin, Emma Beltran, and Madison Oldham created posters for long-term facility healthcare workers. This project was inspired by a guest speaker in Nielsen’s Introduction to Social Work (FLHD 1010) class. The speaker discussed the struggles that long-term care facilities healthcare workers faced especially during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The biggest thing that I learned was that in reality it isn’t hard to help someone feel seen and heard,” said Nielsen. “If we listen and try to see what is needed in other’s lives, we are able to build a community of connection where everyone is willing to lift others up.”

Free Little Pantries

Heather Tilley, an online student located in Lexington, Kentucky, expanded an existing network of free little pantries for her final project. Free little pantries are small pantry-like boxes stocked with food by community members for anyone to take- no strings attached. Partnering with a local newspaper, Tilley was able to secure old newspaper boxes to convert into the pantries around town. Through her project, four pantries have been added to the Lexington community so far, including one on her own property.

“We were in the middle of our community lockdowns in the winter and our local shelters and food banks were maxed out,” said Tilley. “I wanted to find a way that my community could work together to help people get access to food and other supplies while also preventing the spread of COVID-19. There is always a way to support your community and care for one another, you just might have to be creative.”

The efforts of her project continue beyond the final day of class. Community partners who worked with Tilley are expanding her project to add more pantries across the city, including one at each fire station.

SUU Dogs

For their final project, Lindsey (Trussell) Colton, Mattie Bunn, Maya Kohler, and Emily Anderson decided to invite a guest speaker to come and share the importance of service and emotional support animals with campus.

“One of our group members had an emotional support dog,” said Colton. “She explained that her dog has saved her life but a lot of people give emotional support animals a bad rap. There are people who say their animal is for emotional support just so they can have their pet travel with them or live in a dorm with them. This group member wanted to educate the community about service and emotional support animals because she wants it to be taken more seriously. As a group we thought this would be a great project because chances are we will be working with children and adults with service or emotional support animals. It was also something we felt the community needed to learn more about and be united on the significance of these animals.”

Unfortunately in the middle of this spring 2020 class the COVID-19 pandemic broke out and the group was forced to change their plans. Instead of hosting a guest speaker, the group decided to create an Instagram account dedicated to spreading information about service and emotional support animals. While the group was disappointed in changing their plans, they were happy that their project still reached many people, sharing this important information with a broader audience.

Donut With a Cop

For their project, Madi Berg, Madison Kierejewski, and Sadie Webster planned and hosted two “Donut With a Cop” events with the Cedar City and Parowan police departments. The events gave community members an opportunity to interact with police officers in a casual atmosphere, playing games, winning prizes, and, of course, eating donuts.

“The biggest thing I learned from this class as a whole was that healthy community and family relationships are extremely vital to a child's wellbeing, inside any space,” said Berg. “I learned that providing ways for children and families to create these interactions makes it more efficient for families to engage in such activities. This project specifically taught me that it can be uncomfortable to create bonds and relationships with someone or something, but in a safe space, it is so much more comfortable for everyone involved”

This event especially hit home for Berg because her father, Mike Berg, is currently the Parowan City Chief of Police.

“This awesome event has helped put my officers out in the public in a positive way so that the community could see that we are all human beings with a longing to not only serve our people, but to also connect and have fun when the time is given,” said Chief Berg. “It was a great idea produced by these three students who put their heart and soul into it and cared more about how it would affect the community than their class grade. We recommend that they do this more often and encourage others to accompany as well.”

Family and Sports Engagement

Becoming project partners because of their shared interest in sports, softball player Kamryn Grover and football player Gregory Rogers worked together to create a presentation about wellness for elementary students and families. They discussed multiple topics from self-esteem and resilience, to the importance of academics and the life skills that sports can teach. Afterward, they handed out free tickets to a local softball game for the students and their families.

“This experience was very difficult, and in the same breath it was truly amazing,” said Grover. “It was difficult because it was so wide open and we were able to choose anything we wanted. Luckily with our athletic backgrounds as well as our background with this course, we were able to combine two things we loved. I would love to create more family events and get the community engaged like this.”

Truck Driver Appreciation

Inspired by her father who is a truck driver, Sondra Jones partnered with Hayley Vandenburg, Dorothy Hassey, and Ronnie Robinson to create and facilitate a local movement to honor truck drivers and their essential work. Their project unfolded in two parts: First, they partnered with local elementary schools and Love’s Travel Stop to create Valentine’s Day cards to hand out to truck drivers passing through. Second, the groups collected donations such as shaving kits, wipes, toothbrush/paste, deodorant, drink mixes, and snacks to hand out to truck drivers.

“The entire thing was a great project and a wonderful success,” said Jones. “It was fun to connect students and families and community members and businesses directly to the truck drivers that we all need and rely on so much. It was even better to connect the truckers to the gratitude from the many people they serve.”


FLHD 4350: Fostering Family, School, and Community Partnerships is offered in the fall, spring, and summer semesters. For more information, visit SUU's course catalog.

Tags: College of Education and Human Development Family Life and Human Development

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