Lay the Foundation

Schools and communities likely already have many of the foundational pieces in place for helping students build social capital. These might include current strategies around work-based learning, important partnerships with employers and postsecondary institutions, or advising plans to guide students in their next step. However, these strategies often lack a high-level coordinating vision, intentional design planning, progress monitoring, and evaluation to ensure that all students are benefiting from these critical relationship-building experiences.

Creating a strong vision and setting intentions for this work is critical to ensuring all students will leave with a robust personal network and the skills to activate it toward their goals. The Cultivating Connections framework starts with creating a theory of action for what a social capital strategy should look like for their students, then building the case for why social capital matters for their community, identifying assets and mapping networks to better understand who and what is already in place to support student social capital development.

Create a Theory of Action

Consider your goals for effectively setting students up on a path to in-demand, fulfilling jobs that pay a family-sustaining wage and how an intentional social capital strategy will help you accomplish this. What will the impact be on your community because you prioritized social capital development in your college and career pathways work?

Build the Case

Help all members of your community—not just students—understand why this work is so important. Build a foundational understanding of what social capital is and why it matters for student success with a variety of stakeholders within your community. Set the expectation that everyone(educators, parents, leaders, mentors) can, and should, serve as brokers of student and community social capital.

Notes from the field
Engage parents and families as part of social capital building

San Diego, California

For the San Diego team, it was necessary and beneficial to introduce the concept and benefits of social capital to families. They started with parents participating in an existing leadership program. Family engagement was already a core tenet in their approach to delivering equitable, community-oriented programming, and they found significant interest among parents in learning more about social capital. Leveraging families as both partners in helping students better understand the power in their networks and as brokers for new relationships can add tremendous value and keep these conversations going after the school day is over. It also recognizes the assets that schools already have in their students and families. In other words, there’s value in starting with a community’s own networks before seeking out new connections.

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Identify Your Assets

Inventory the programs and curricula you already have in place within your school and community that provide students with opportunities to learn about and build their social capital. Where are you already helping students make connections or have new conversations with the people they already know? Map what they are, how they might intersect with one another, and where the opportunities are to strengthen these efforts.

Notes from the field
Leverage existing resources to better align the work

Chattanooga, Tennessee

Communities may already have trusted materials that could be used in different and more intentional ways to help build student social capital. As part of helping students prepare for internship opportunities through their STEP-UP program, the Public Education Foundation in Chattanooga,TN had a work readiness guide that walked students through various activities to help them feel confident and ready for their internships. This team took the existing document, divided it into modules that worked for delivery within the advisory periods, and supplemented it with other social capital resources, like the Connected Futures curriculum. This approach minimized the need to develop completely brand new content and served to make social capital development a more explicit component within the existing materials.

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Integrate social capital content into academic coursework

Nashville, Tennessee

Career and Technical Education (CTE) courses aren’t the only places where students should learn about the value of building and leveraging their social capital. Academic classes can also build relevance and student engagement by incorporating these ideas and strategies. At Maplewood High School in Nashville, the College and Career Readiness coach partnered with the sociology teacher to integrate social capital lessons into their syllabus. Once or twice a week, the coach would come into the classroom and bring a concept (e.g., relationship mapping, strong ties/weak ties, networking) to life, aligning the lesson to what students were currently learning in their existing sociology coursework.

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Map Your Network

Your staff, leaders, and school community already have a rich network from which your students can benefit. Consider the people and organizations already a part of your ecosystem and map these relationships to help you better understand the connections you might leverage and identify new relationships you might want to build.

Notes from the field
Encourage staff to strengthen their own social capital

Tacoma, Washington

While it is important to provide support to students to build and mobilize their own networks, it is also valuable for student-facing staff to see themselves as potential relationship brokers. This includes connecting with educators and administrators within the school building and looking outside the school community to bring new connections to students. The College Success Foundation advisor at Lincoln High School in Tacoma, WA made it a priority to strengthen her own ties to teachers and staff in the building to better serve as a resource to them and to the students. As a result of these efforts, several teachers invited her into their classrooms to deliver quick presentations on the work of the College Success Foundation and how they could benefit from participation in their programming.

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Continue to Phase 2: Design The SupportsNext