October 24, 2018
Looking back on his childhood, nature writer Paul Gruchow lamented not knowing that his town’s leading banker wrote an important book about Minnesota’s native prairie. “I can only imagine now what it might have meant to me — a studious boy with a love of nature — to know that a great scholar of natural history had made a full and satisfying life in my town,” he wrote.
Too bad no one at Gruchow’s school (or afterschool program) invited the banker to share his passion for botany with local students. But chances are, they weren’t even aware of it!
Until you go looking, you may not realize how much knowledge and talent is around you. Maybe the district Title I coordinator is also a Master Gardener. The high school Spanish teacher could be a yoga instructor. Maybe your local insurance agent goes rock climbing on weekends, your son’s coach bakes special event cakes and the school secretary paints landscapes. Thrills and skills with student appeal may be just down the hall and around the corner. Here are tips on finding and recruiting local experts to enrich your program.
Three Places to Look
- Institutions and organizations: Government agencies and universities often have outreach offices or participate in community service events. For example, agricultural extension offices offer programs and experts to interest young people in citizen science and develop skills they can use throughout their lives.
- Social networks: What interests and hobbies do your friends mention in their profiles or posts? What local groups or clubs have an online presence? If your students are interested in astronomy, you or an online friend probably knows someone who knows someone who does star parties.
- Everyday life: Every person you know or meet — at school, work, church, the gym, local businesses, community events, family reunions — is a potential contributor. Keep your eyes and ears open.
Two Ways to Recruit
- Personal contact: If you learn the local banker is a botanist, why not make your pitch: “Hi! This is Ms. Talent Scout, and I work in our local 21st CCLC afterschool program. I just heard that you wrote a book about local plants. I’m wondering if you’d be willing to share your knowledge with our students. Could we talk sometime soon?”
- Call for volunteers: Maybe you’re looking for expertise in a specific area, like photography or financial planning. Or maybe you could issue a general invitation for students’ family members and others in the school or community to share their knowledge, skills and interests. Either way, put out the word in newsletters, bulletin boards, social networks and word of mouth.
Be Prepared If a Local Expert Says Yes
- Offer a variety of formats and time frames, ranging from a single event to a series of activities to one-on-one mentoring. Both you and the person you recruit might want to “start small” before committing to long-term involvement.
- Be prepared to support local experts, once they get involved. Watch for ideas in an upcoming Y4Y blog post!
Ready to get started?Y4Y’s student interest inventories (one for elementary students and another for secondary students) can help you identify topics. But remember: Bringing in an outside expert is also a good way to introduce new ideas and spark students’ curiosity. As Paul Gruchow wrote, “Curiosity, imagination, inventiveness expand with use, like muscles, and atrophy with neglect.”