The Innovation Equation: How Rock Hill, SC Leverages the Talents of Children to Solve Community Problems

ARTICLE | Oct 6, 2014

In 2012, the City of Rock Hill and the Rock Hill School District joined forces in a progressive partnership to promote real-world learning opportunities for our students. This collaboration around “Challenge Based Learning” projects resulted in the City of Rock Hill receiving the 2014 Achievement Award in the Public Service Category by the Municipal Association of South Carolina.

The Challenge Based Learning initiative created a partnership between the city and the school system that uses students’ natural talents, gives city officials new perspectives, and uses resources more efficiently. This partnership is a multidisciplinary approach to teaching and learning that leverages the talents of 800+ City employees, 17,400 student citizens, and 1,450 teachers and administrators to create viable solutions to community challenges.

In a world of decreasing budgets and demanding workloads, this collaboration provides an opportunity for the City to accomplish tasks that would otherwise be overlooked. The partnership is an ideal solution to these municipal challenges because it provides additional resources at a low cost to assist cities with the day-to-day challenges of serving the public.

City employees at all staff levels and across all departments are gaining leadership and mentorship experience, encouraging cross-generational dialogue about core community values. We establish relationships between today's city leaders and the leaders of tomorrow. Harnessing the power of a young and energetic workforce gives us the chance to answer old questions with new solutions. With this fresh perspective, we can better plan for the future and create an entire generation of citizens who have the expectation that they can (and should) address the needs of their community.

The initiative gives students real-world examples to demonstrate learning. Now, fifth graders in Rock Hill can be proud of the civil rights walking tour that they created with city staff. Math and science students from a local high school can boast that they developed community wellness campaigns designed by examining local eating and exercise habits.  Students have worked with residents to document the history of local textile mills and students’ illustrations have been integral to the development of public art for Rock Hill’s new Fountain Park. 

This initiative is more than just a working relationship between two public organizations--it is an unprecedented level of collaboration between a city and system of schools. Especially in a state where municipal and school funding is separate, a coalition of this magnitude is extraordinary. It provides a venue for students' worth in the community to be validated by their contributions, encouraging civic responsibility. This is a lesson for every child and educator involved, and the households in which they live.  

The scope of this project reaches past the boundaries of a single City department, school classroom or specific work assignment, and touches the entire Rock Hill community. It leaves a legacy of responsible, engaged citizens that have left an indelible mark on the most significant areas of the City.

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