The value and vi­a­bil­ity of community schools

The Compass - - FRONT PAGE - The fol­low­ing is a pre­sen­ta­tion de­liv­ered by Den­nis Mulc­ahy, a pro­fes­sor with the fac­ulty of ed­u­ca­tion at Memo­rial Univer­sity, dur­ing a pub­lic con­sul­ta­tion hosted by Eastern School Dis­trict in Swift Cur­rent on Oct. 25. In light of the on­go­ing de­bate over

Ed­i­tor’s note:

I have trav­elled here tonight be­cause I be­lieve in the vi­a­bil­ity and value of small ru­ral schools. I be­lieve in the value of community and neigh­bour­hood schools. Chil­dren are best served when they are ed­u­cated close to home; com­mu­ni­ties are best served when they have a school to sup­port and iden­tify with. Schools pro­vide com­mu­ni­ties with hope for their fu­tures.

It is amaz­ing how lit­tle re­gard is given to the ef­fect of a school clo­sure on a community. For the past 50 years ed­u­ca­tional of­fi­cials in this prov­ince have per­sis­tently and some­times per­ni­ciously

Den­nis Mulc­ahy is a pro­fes­sor with the fac­ulty of ed­u­ca­tion at Memo­rial Univer­sity.

at­tacked and dis­man­tled community schools.

Hun­dreds of good and val­ued schools have been closed. To­day, we have more chil­dren than ev­ery be­fore, evening our youngest ones, spend­ing in­creas­ing amounts of time be­ing bused.

ru­ral

And for what? There is no ev­i­dence that school or dis­trict con­sol­i­da­tion saves money or im­proves ed­u­ca­tion. Given the num­ber of clo­sures and con­sol­i­da­tions that have oc­curred in this prov­ince, shouldn’t there be a moun­tain of data clearly in­di­cat­ing this was a good thing to do? Where is the ev­i­dence that money has been saved, achieve­ment has been im­proved, and com­mu­ni­ties have not be­ing af­fected?

False claims against small schools

Over the years our ed­u­ca­tional lead­ers have made many false claims against small-scale school­ing. First, there was the ar­gu­ment that chil­dren could not learn as well in small schools as they could in larger ones. Study af­ter study has shown this was a false ar­gu­ment. Chil­dren learn as well or bet­ter in smaller schools.

Then we had the ar­gu­ment against multi-grade or mul­ti­age class­rooms. Again this was shown to be a false ar­gu­ment. There are many dis­tinct ed­u­ca­tional ad­van­tages to group­ing chil­dren of dif­fer­ent ages and grade lev­els to­gether for in­struc­tion.

Then came the ar­gu­ment say­ing pro­gram­ming was de­fi­cient in small schools. The fact is with the ad­vent of E Learn­ing via CDLI the size and lo­ca­tion of a school is to­tally ir­rel­e­vant to its abil­ity to of­fer pro­gram­ming. The whole of the high school pro­gram is now avail­able to all schools via dis­tance learn­ing.

There are no valid ed­u­ca­tional rea­sons for clos­ing small ru­ral schools and buss­ing chil­dren from their home com­mu­ni­ties to more dis­tant ones. Rarely is there any money to be saved.

Mis­tak­ing chil­dren for fish

A more re­cent ar­gu­ment for clos­ing community schools seems to mis­take chil­dren for fish. Lack­ing any cred­i­ble ped­a­gog­i­cal ar­gu­ments for clos­ing community schools, our ed­u­ca­tional lead­ers have re­sorted, some­what des­per­ately, to in­dus­trial and busi­ness rea­sons.

So to­day the ar­gu­ment is ca­pac­ity — over ca­pac­ity and un­der ca­pac­ity.

There has been plenty of talk re­gard­ing ca­pac­ity in this prov­ince re­cently with ref­er­ence to fish plants and pa­per mills. But our schools are not fish plants or pa­per mills; they are not fac­to­ries. Our chil­dren, who are our fu­ture, are not fish or blocks of wood to be pro­cessed in the most ef­fi­cient and stan­dard­ized man­ner.

Ef­fi­ciency and stan­dard­iza­tion may be ap­pro­pri­ate goals for in­dus­try, but to use such terms in ref­er­ence to school­ing and ed­u­ca­tion is to demon­strate reck­less dis­re­gard for chil­dren and their home com­mu­ni­ties. To jus­tify the clos­ing of a community school and dis­rupt the lives of chil­dren and their par­ents on the ba­sis of an in­dus­trial con­cept such as ca­pac­ity is to re­veal a very low level of ed­u­ca­tional thought and con­sid­er­a­tion.

Chil­dren are hu­man be­ings; they de­serve hu­mane treat­ment.

Lack of re­gard for ru­ral chil­dren

The lack of re­gard and re­spect for ru­ral chil­dren is ev­i­dent in many as­pects of their ed­u­ca­tion. One of these is the new con­sol­i­dated ru­ral schools that have been built. In­vari­ably, they are small and cramped places with in­ad­e­quate cafe­te­rias and gym­na­si­ums. The de­sign of the class­rooms shows no ap­pre­ci­a­tion for how cre­ative teach­ing and learn­ing oc­curs in to­day’s schools. There is no room what­so­ever ex­cept for students to sit in their desks and not move.

Who de­signed these schools? Did they have any­thing to work with other than a mea­sur­ing tape? Did they con­sider any­thing ex­cept square footage?

I have heard that many teach­ers broke down and cried when they saw where and how they were expected to teach in their so-called new school. They would love to have some ex­tra ca­pac­ity. Per­haps the clear­est dis­re­gard for the well-be­ing of ru­ral chil­dren is the in­creased buss­ing so many of them are forced to en­dure ev­ery day.

Buss­ing is­sues

Buss­ing is a very se­ri­ous is­sue and the de­ci­sion to close a school and bus chil­dren can­not be taken lightly. You may have no­ticed that of­fi­cials, when dis­cussing buss­ing, al­ways speak in terms of dis­tance, em­pha­siz­ing how many kilo­me­tres the ride will be. How­ever, the key is­sue is time, not dis­tance.

It’s not how far the ride is but how much of the chil­dren’s time will be taken for the ride to and from school. Pre­cious time is lost and wasted. There are many safety and health is­sues to be con­sid­ered. What kind of road con­di­tions ex­ist? What dan­gers will win­ter driv­ing bring? Re­mem­ber, there are no seat belts on busses.

It is kind of ironic that chil­dren can­not be left alone in the school or class­room for 30 sec­onds. They must be es­corted by a teacher to and from the bus in the school­yard. Yet, 40, 50 or more chil­dren, even the youngest ones, can be put on a bus for more than an hour with­out any adult su­per­vi­sion other than the driver whose job it is, we hope, to keep his or her eyes on the road.

How do we as re­spon­si­ble adults get away with this? With such long un­su­per­vised bus rides there is am­ple op­por­tu­nity for bul­ly­ing as well as phys­i­cal and even sex­ual abuse of the chil­dren. And if you think this is not go­ing on, you are only fool­ing your­self. In ad­di­tion, there are an in­creas­ing num­ber of chil­dren with health is­sues that will not be helped by long bus rides.

Buss­ing in­hibits chil­dren from be­ing fully in­volved in the life of the school. It is much more dif­fi­cult for them to take part in ex­tra-cur­ric­u­lar ac­tiv­i­ties such as sports and arts pro­gram­ming and to avail of af­ter school tu­tor­ing that may be of­fered. They can­not stay af­ter school be­cause they have to get the bus home.

It is very dif­fi­cult for students to feel any at­tach­ment to a school they have lit­tle or no in­volve­ment in other than their aca­demics. And this lack of in­volve­ment can neg­a­tively af­fect their in­ter­est and achieve­ment. I would cau­tion you about the of­fer of a so-called late bus. His­tory has shown that the prom­ise of such a bus is short-lived, if it ma­te­ri­al­izes at all.

Un­for­tu­nately, the peo­ple who have an in­ti­mate knowl­edge of the ef­fects of buss­ing are not al­lowed to speak at these meet­ings. Teach­ers and prin­ci­pals see these ef­fects ev­ery day, they see the tired chil­dren, the trau­ma­tized chil­dren, the scared chil­dren; they see the ef­fects on their school work, they see the dis­ap­point­ment in their faces and their bro­ken hearts when they re­al­ize they can­not fully ex­pe­ri­ence the life of the school as they did in their community schools.

But these pro­fes­sion­als have been de­nied a voice in these pub­lic meet­ings. Their em­ploy­ers, the school dis­tricts, have si­lenced them. More un­for­tu­nate, is the fact that the of­fi­cials who will be mak­ing the de­ci­sions to close schools and bus chil­dren may not ap­pre­ci­ate the po­ten­tial harm­ful and hurt­ful ef­fects of bus­ing. How can they? It is not their chil­dren who have to en­dure long bus rides and be de­prived of the rich life a school has to of­fer.

They are not de­cid­ing to put their own chil­dren on the bus. It is not they who will see on a daily ba­sis the ef­fects on their chil­dren. It is not their community that will be de­prived of a school.

Sum­ming up

It is cru­cial, I be­lieve, for dis­trict of­fi­cials to to lis­ten to the par­ents and teach­ers in these ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties so they can know the con­se­quences of what they are about to do. I en­cour­age this community and the oth­ers un­der siege to fight for your school and for your com­mu­ni­ties, but mostly fight for your chil­dren.

With the con­sol­i­dated boards you are very much out of sight and per­haps out of mind. Ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties ex­ist on the fringes and on the mar­gins; within the dis­trict’s big pic­ture you may not be very mean­ing­ful. That is why you have to fight that much harder.

— Den­nis Mulc­ahy

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