Communities across the United States share a common and worthy concern: how can our community improve its schools? The value we place on individuals’ education stems from the long-standing promise of the American school system that receiving an education leads to better-paying jobs, reduced inequality, and lifelong success. But despite being more highly educated than ever before, over the last two decades the majority of workers have seen little to no wage growth, income inequality has risen, and Americans have experienced a widening disconnect between success in school and success in life.

The answer to the call for educational improvement, and to the increasing inequity throughout the US, is a matter of changing the question – how can schools improve their communities?

That simple flip in the improvement narrative represents a paradigm shift in educational practice. In addition to (1) curricular knowledge, to make a difference in their communities students would have to develop (2) an understanding of themselves and what matters to them, (3) the ability to collaborate, communicate, and think critically and creatively, and (4) connections with others in their communities and beyond. In a word, students would have to learn what it takes to contribute – and, therefore, what they need to succeed. Because when humans have knowledge, self-understanding, competency, and connection, our lives are filled with meaning and fulfillment.

A commitment to this vision is a commitment to contribution. No individual sector can achieve it alone. It takes a collective commitment to students and their needs and to the success of the entire community, first from the schools themselves, but also from students’ parents, community leaders, education system representatives, policymakers, and others. It takes a team of people committed to changing individual and community outcomes.

Schools can make deeper learning a reality through Community Change Teams. Partnering and meeting throughout the school year to work toward shared student and community goals, these teams form an active, living link between school and community that provides the support system students need to achieve real success. When students, families, educators, and community members all connect around improving both student and community outcomes, there’s no limit to its impact on the wellbeing of the community.

Communities won’t stop the troubling trends in our country by hoping today’s students make a difference tomorrow. Students are ready to make a difference today.

They need schools and communities that are ready to let them.