The comments in response to my post about all-day junior kindergarten got me thinking again about what we could change about our society, our communities, our lifestyles, our institutions and our values to promote Gross Domestic Happiness rather than Gross Domestic Product. As I wrote in my follow-up comment, there’s no simple answer; systemic change is required. But sometimes, I think, systemic change takes root in a thousand small simple answers. Tipping Point and all that.

So here’s what I think is one of those simple, common-sense pieces of the puzzle. A Common Sense school. We have one in our community. This school provides K to 12 educational schooling to about a hundred kids. It’s feeling the economic belt-tightening like so many schools. Declining rural enrolment has made it tougher here than many places. But still it remains a vibrant pillar of the community.

From 8:55 a.m. to 3:11 p.m. about a hundred and eighty days a year, the school serves its primary mandate. And more. The now-surplus classroom is rented out to the preschool society for their programs. Anyone is welcome to come into the library, browse, sign out books. Anyone. For free. Anyone is welcome to attend special events like performances, special assemblies and the like. Retired adults have taken part in the instrumental music class. Parents and other community members come in and share their knowledge and passions. Homeschoolers are welcome to attend class for special workshops, festivals, field trips. Not because they generate funding (they don’t), just because it makes sense to allow them to attend if they want. Classes are involved in community service and in outdoor education, including extended canoe, hiking and biking trips. There’s a beautiful garden area that’s cared for by students and staff. The school created an amazing intergenerational education program that had 9- and 10-year-olds attending part of every school week at the local nursing home, integrated with the daily routines, activities, social milieu and living history of the residents there.

And then the bell goes to end the school day and rather than standing empty the building is used by the community. The grounds play host to community soccer games. The gym is used for community basketball and an evening a week by an informal group of badminton players. The classrooms and library are used by music groups, literacy groups, for community college extension classes, for meetings, community cooking, round-tables, rehearsals, discussions, social activism, fundraising. During the summer the entire school is used for three solid weeks by a non-profit music education society for a nominal fee. Any of these activities could be sidelined by concerns over liability or security, by fees charged or paper-work required, by administrative hoops to jump through. But they’re not.

There are schools elsewhere in our province (and in other provinces) that have been given the designation of “community schools.” They get extra funding, administrators, protocols and guidelines and they do much of what our school does. Our school applied for the designation, but already the funding had dried up. You’d think they’d just give up on the idea. But no. They just became a de facto community school anyway.

So when Noah’s quartet needs a place to rehearse on a Sunday afternoon in October, I can just call up a teacher and I’ll be told “oh sure, just come, I’ll meet you there and let you in; we’ll find you a room to use.” Or when Erin’s youth choir comes to town to do a fund-raising concert and we need a place to host their lasagna dinner of course we just use the school Foods Room. How blissfully sensible.

If there were more of this community-minded common sense, if we were less driven by fear and more interested in removing barriers to the generation of grass-roots energy, I think we’d be increasing our GDH.

A School of Common Sense

7 thoughts on “A School of Common Sense

  • June 17, 2009 at 6:08 am
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    Oh how I envy you your community school. It's a completely different world where we live. No one is allowed in unless it's for an after school program run by the village office's recreation department – and I haven't seen one of those advertised in eons.

    What an idyllic set up.

  • June 17, 2009 at 7:15 am
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    Actually, many of the functions you note go on in our community schools as well. Not all, however, as the HS library is not available to the general public but we have an excellent public library that serves that purpose.

    The school grounds are used by all sports teams. The gyms are used by various sport groups and others on off-school hours. The next town over has the inter-generational orchestra practice and perfrom at their HS. Elementary schools use the upper level school faclities for various functions. A chinese language school uses our middle school on Saturdays. A drama program used one school in the evenings until recently when the situation became unworkable. Scout groups and other community organizations use the schools for meetings. I know there was an Indian cultural group that used our HS auditorium for an all-day program. The local Jaycess run their pancake breakfast in the HS cafeteria.

    There may be a small fee for some of these activities, primarily to pay for the custodial staff to stay late or ocme in on Saturday and make sure the facility is cleaned up for the school. With the tightened budget, there may be slightly higher fees for groups not related to the school district or township to use the facilities.

    Our district serves over 6500 kids. Thus, you could not simply call up an individual teacher and get them to open up the school for your group. It is just not workable with a district that size in a highly developed area, so advanced scheduling is required. Also, Sundays are probably the one day that the schools are completely closed (to give the custodial staff a break). However, if they wanted to practice on a regular basis on another day I would be the space might be available.

  • June 17, 2009 at 8:15 am
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    Glad to hear you also have community minded schools, Meg. Thanks for sharing!

  • June 17, 2009 at 8:34 pm
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    This sounds like a wonderful community resource, and you're right, it should be happening everywhere. Our son went to a “community school” from K to grade 7 but we parents were prevented from helping in the library because of the union regulations!!!

  • June 18, 2009 at 9:00 am
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    That sounds wonderful! We looked into using one of the local schools for our kids' club and we were shocked at the cost, the paperwork and the hassle involved in renting the space! It was a real turn-off for us. We found a space in the basement of the library which was much more reasonable. With a planned major renovation to our library for this fall, we're not sure where we're going to find space. I'm reluctant to contact the school board again, though!

    It sure would be nice to have an area as open as yours seems to be!

  • June 19, 2009 at 5:07 am
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    Miranda,

    Do you know how this works? Is is controlled by the school board or does a parent/community committee get the funding directly from the province/municipality? Do you know of any resources online about creating a community school?

    Our municipalities used to collect and disperse the funds here until Mike Harris the uber neo-con came in and amalgamated everything…..mini rant.

    I'm curious because we're wondering how to go about doing it here in our small town – our k-8 school has 57 students and we're always afraid it will shut down. Also, the board has transferred me out, now I'll have a long commute on dangerous winter roads. Three local teachers will be passing three other teachers…it's so stupid. Another mini rant.

    Erin in Ontario

  • June 19, 2009 at 9:08 am
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    Erin, the miracle is that there is NO funding for this. The people who use the school clean up very well after themselves. The custodial staff are incredibly accommodating about working around community groups as they schedule their work. For the music/arts school summer program, which is huge (3 weeks at this school, one week at another for drama), there's a direct negotiation by one of the teachers, who's also on the board of the music school, with the operations manager of the school district. The music school pays $1700 for custodial time.

    This is not a community school by any official designation. For a while the province of BC had a system for approving and funding community schools, but it ended almost as quickly as it began and our school just didn't move fast enough with its application. It functions as a community school due to the common sense community-mindedness of the custodial, teaching and administrative staff.

    Case in point — for a performance tonight at a nearby village hall I need five nice black Manhasset music stands. I'll go to the school later today and borrow them. A teacher friend of mine will take them back on Monday.

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