Frederick Douglass High School: Partnering with Students and the Community for a Brighter Tomorrow

For the staff at Frederick Douglass High School, a community partner of the MU Office of Service-Learning, it’s about more than getting students to graduation. It’s about actively engaging students in their education and providing them with the skills necessary to succeed, not only in school but also in the future.

A major part of this initiative by FDHS is partnering with community organizations to provide opportunities for students to learn and get involved outside of the classroom. From volunteering to job shadowing to community-funded projects, students are being exposed to real-world experiences that are better preparing them for college, technical training, jobs or community roles.

“These partnerships are creating opportunities for students to learn by doing and be recognized for doing,” says John Reid, biology and outdoor science teacher. “Students are learning communication and social skills that allow them to get along with each other and authority figures better, which will also help them interact better in other school and job environments.”

FDHS Director Eryca Neville began building community partnerships three years ago and has seen an immense interest from the community that continues to grow.

Columbia Center for Urban Agriculture (another community partner of MU’s Office of Service-Learning) allows students to help with its community garden and also provides aid to FDHS’s own garden. Several rotary clubs within the city adopted the school and provide mentors, speakers, funded field trips and more. The District helps finds afterschool jobs for students. Columbia Parks and Recreation develops service projects that are aided by students. PedNet Coalition donated quality used bikes for student afterschool, fieldtrip and volunteer use. Lucky’s Market donates food items and time from generous employees, as well as holding several fundraisers for targeted projects at the school.

That’s just to name a few.

“Neville has been great at opening up the school to the community,” Reid says. “There are a lot of people who have helped and are interested in helping in the future.”

To show appreciation for support received, FDHS hosts an annual Thanksgiving dinner for all students and their relatives, staff, and current and potential community partners.

This year’s Thanksgiving dinner was held on Tuesday, Nov. 25 from 12 to 2 p.m. Several organizations donated food to the event: pork from Patchwork Farms; greens from the Columbia Center for Urban Agriculture; turkey, sides and dessert from Bulldog BBQ (FDHS’s student-ran catering and cooking class); dessert and volunteer service from Lucky’s Farmers Market; and several dishes and desserts made from sweet potatoes and herbs out of the school garden.

Reid says that for bringing in families and community members, the Thanksgiving dinner is the most successful event FDHS hosts throughout the year.

“It’s our way to give back and make student’s families and the community feel welcome,” Reid says.

And it appears to do just that.

“It’s a good thing to know that it’s like family here,” FDHS student Dasia Evans told the Columbia Missourian. “It’s not like other schools.”

Dedan Githegi, FDHS internship and community supervisor, says that this year’s dinner had a turnout upward of 217 people.

“It was a great opportunity to meet parents of our students and give thanks for those who work with us in our school, whether it’s students, staff or community partners,” Githegi says.

The next big community partnership event for FDHS will be its annual job fair on April 8. Volunteers from Columbia rotary clubs teach students resume writing and interview skills, and also provide dress code tips. Local businesses and chains are present to provide a place for students and parents to seek a variety of positions in one accessible location.

“Events such as this are important to us because it makes the school relevant to the area and to the students that we serve and their families,” Githegi says.

Dr. Anne-Marie Foley, director of the MU Office of Service-Learning, agrees and says that serving the Douglass Park area is vital, particularly for MU’s campus.

“I’m always excited when MU students work with organizations in the Douglass Park area and by everything they have to learn by working with the remarkable programs at Frederick Douglass High School,” Foley says. “The Douglass Park area is the closest neighborhood to MU and, for me, that’s very powerful. Being in higher education is one of the most privileged places we can be, but right next door are students in great need. That’s why the Douglass Park message has been really important to me for a very long time.”

If you’re a community organization interested in partnering with Frederick Douglass High School, please contact Dedan Githegi directly at 573-214-3680. To learn more about how you can serve FDHS as a service-learner, please contact the MU Office of Service-Learning by phone at 573-882-0227 or by email atmuserves@missouri.edu.