How to set up K-12 outreach initiatives

The general process for setting up successful K-12 outreach initiatives begins with determining what you want to do and what you need to do it. While getting a group of volunteers and obtaining funding (as necessary) are important early steps, securing your target audience and initiating partnerships with local K-12 teachers also can be a difficult and time-consuming process. The following outline provides some strategies for making this process easier. Ideally, your institution has someone on staff who can help administer outreach initiatives, but this is not always the case.

The bottom line: The less bureaucracy the better — talk directly with the teachers themselves to set up class visits or outings or to advertise opportunities that you’re providing for students and teachers.

The following will help facilitate this goal:

  • If possible, build up a list of science teachers in your area by contacting the school district office and requesting a list.
  • Many schools may have a science department chair. This person can put you in contact with the teachers and students that will benefit the most from what you have to offer. If you don’t have a list, contact each school individually and request to speak with the science chair or a senior science teacher who is likely to be familiar with the other science teachers. It should be possible to set up a meeting with the whole science department at any one school to give a short presentation on the programs you offer. Have a 10-minute presentation ready to give to students that highlights the opportunities that you provide and that they might be interested in or have to sign up for. Teachers will usually be willing to give you some time at the beginning of their class periods to do your presentation.
  • There may be a district-wide in-service day for all science teachers, often just before the school year begins. Find out if you can attend this event to meet science teachers and possibly bring a poster to advertise your programs. If you can find out who is organizing the in-service day, you may be able to get a presentation time slot and speak to all the science teachers in the district at one time.
  • Your college or university may have an outreach or community education office that can set up a meeting with area science teachers for you to meet with them and give a presentation about your programs. This office also may serve as a resource for scheduling/planning your events and getting contact information for science teachers in your area. In general, you have to provide your own volunteers (undergraduate and graduate students, postdocs, and faculty), but this office may be able to help with that as well.
  • Once you’ve made contact with a teacher at a school, ask that teacher to let their colleagues know about your programs. That teacher may be willing to circulate an informational brochure, sign-up sheets or applications.
  • Your local school district may have an office that handles volunteer outreach to the schools in their jurisdiction. In some cases, the district might even prefer that you go through this office for all your endeavors, although it is generally preferable for you to deal with the teachers directly. This office should at least be able to provide contact information.