The School Beat 1

BY Leif Helmer

There has been a lot of discussion in the area about the future of our local schools. Despite increasing enrollment, a fair amount of investment in the buildings and a very engaged school community of parents and other residents, both Petite and Pentz were reviewed for closure. In late March the elected school board opted to close both and request funding for a new combined school. At this point there is not too much certain from this point onwards, except that the board was hopeful to support the concept of a community school in their decision.

So what is a Community School? Canada’s leading education researcher on this topic is Dr David Clandfield. He describes community schools as a two-way exchange. They are places where children’s learning activities contribute to community development, and where community activities enrich children’s learning.

The Community School idea is not new for Nova Scotia, and its not really that new for the south shore. Community schools exist at Forest Heights in Chester Basin and at Greenfield in northern Queens county. These spaces, one for grade 9 to 12 and the other for primary to grade 6, support quite a range of community activities before, during and after school each day. Jodi Conrad is an employee of the municipality of Chester, a key partner in Forest Heights. Mr Conrad is the Community Use Co-ordinator, and he reports that “there is more and more demand for this type of use” from his very positive experience over the years at Forest Heights.

In Nova Scotia, the Small Schools Initiative has been very active in the past few years to promote and build capacity for community schools for rural places. More often rural schools are operating as community schools, and with some creativity and energy, the partners needed to formalize this into a sustainable plan are quite willing to step up. Indeed the national Community School Coalition suggests that a community school is a “place and a set of partnerships between the school and other community resources”.

At these places there is an “integrated focus on academics, health and social services, youth and community development and community engagement leads to improved student learning, stronger families and healthier communities.”

The students also directly benefit in this model, as community schools offer “a personalized curriculum that emphasizes real-world learning and community problem-solving.”  Sound good?

Schools become more than schools, they become “centers of the community”  and are open to everyone – all day, every day, evenings and weekends. Sound great?

Next month: So what is this Hub school model I keep hearing about?

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