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.