If I’m being completely honest, my college experience was a lonely one. In high school, I struck a healthy balance between hanging out with my friends, extracurricular activities, and homework. I was happy (a bit naïve and sheltered, but happy nonetheless), and I was also a top student having graduated fourth in my senior class.
In college, I became hyper-focused on my studies and isolated myself—devoting my time and energy to studying instead of socializing. I spent many evenings alone in empty classrooms across campus just so I could concentrate. I even opted to miss a holiday party during my study abroad semester in London to stay home and prepare for an exam.
Granted, I got a 4.0 that semester, but looking back I wonder if the social sacrifice was worth it. If I made more friends would those relationships have led to different post-graduation career opportunities?
The Importance of Human Connection
Human connection is powerful, even in schools, which are small communities of geographically-bound peers. Who You Know by Julia Freeland Fisher and Daniel Fisher tells us, “Today, parents rank acquiring social and communication skills among their top priorities for their children next to study habits, critical thinking, and college preparation.”
As a mom of two children, I’d have to agree. My first question during parent-teacher conferences isn’t about standardized tests or reading levels, but rather who my child gets along with best in class. Who are their friends? Are they good leaders? Do they help others? And most importantly: Are they kind?
Although administrations and society put pressure on educators to measure what students know, there’s equal importance in the networking environments that are our schools. These societal microcosms offer children emotional support and advice and even influence career choices down the road.
Expanding Networks and Opportunities
Public school assignments are determined by location—down to the street you live on. However, students in low-income neighborhoods have inherited a school network that defines everything from their identity to a more limited awareness of potential jobs and career paths.
The authors of Who You Know suggest that schools widen networks so that all learners have access to more meaningful online and face-to-face connections across school communities. For example, platforms like iMentor match students with mentors, regardless of their location, so that someone like Zachary—a Jamaican-born teen living in New York City paired with a senior attorney—could explore colleges he may not have otherwise considered.
Authentic, human relationships—even as early as kindergarten—have a profound, lasting impact. A study conducted in 2015 found a correlation between social-emotional skills in kindergarten and young adult and adult outcomes across several domains, including education, employment, criminal activity and even mental health.
Educators and professionals across various disciplines and industries who are invested in creating thriving, human-oriented school environments can help connect what students know to whothey know.
What are your thoughts on expanding social capital in our schools? Please leave your comments below.
About the AuthorMore Content by Tara Trubela