SEDL Southwest Educational Development Laboratory
  Building Support for Better Schools
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step six: Locate a Meeting Site & Handle Logistics

Choosing a Meeting Site

Where you hold your community forum matters. Some participants may feel more comfortable in informal locations, like someone's home or a neighborhood restaurant. Other participants with strong religious convictions may think meeting in a church or temple is inappropriate. Still others are at home in these settings. Some participants may have concerns about meeting in a governmental building, fearing contact with immigration officials.

These considerations may leave organizers asking: "Well, where should we meet?"

The bottom line is: know your community. The fact is any one of the options above may work well, it's just knowing which one is a good fit. Enlist community leaders to help identify the most appropriate meeting locations. Canvass the neighborhood for good locations and ask leaders for ideas. Neutral places such as a community or recreation center may work best.

Other issues to think about include the safety of participants. Is the designated meeting site in a safe area? If not, could it be made safer? Also be sure the location is close to where participants live, and has access to public transportation. Provide transportation if the meeting site is not on a bus line. If you are planning a city-wide community forum, identify transportation strategies that ensure all segments of the community can attend and are well-represented.

The Logistics

Logistics largely cover meeting times, transportation, childcare and food.

Setting meeting times largely depends on the community. Find out what works best for participants. Consider holding a series of meetings on the same issue at different times to accommodate as many family and community members as possible. Learn which cultural celebrations, religious observances and holidays conflict with meeting times.

Sometimes a school is not the best place to hold a community conversation, especially if parents have had bad experiences in the past:
Parents say-'They (teachers and school personnel) don't like us. I don't want my kids in a school where I am not wanted.' - Community organizer with the National Association for Advancement of Colored People, Arkansas

Lack of transportation continues to hinder the involvement of many low-income, minority parents and community members. Is public transportation available? If not, arrange for private transportation, car pooling or "walking pools" which involves groups of neighbors who walk together to an event.

Many of the organizers interviewed by SEDL stressed the importance of providing child care. Let participants know ahead of time whether on-site childcare will be provided.

Refreshments, including food native to participants' cultural backgrounds, is a good ice breaker. And, often participants don't have an opportunity to eat or a grab a snack before they attend a community meeting.

Other ideas from successful organizers

  • Kick off the session with a well-known speaker, a children's performance or some other form of entertainment
  • Take advantage of existing meetings. For example, if the local Hispanic Chamber of Commerce is holding its annual meeting, ask leaders if they would be willing to carve out two hours either before or after the meeting for a forum about schools
  • Hold a raffle after the meeting and give away door prizes, perhaps a free trip to the zoo or a gift certificate to a local restaurant.
  Building Support for Better Schools
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