In the debate over the fates of Eastern Shore District High and Gaetz Brook Junior High, there have been any number of comments about the benefits of community-based schools. By community-based, I mean schools that are embedded in a geography of community resources that are easily accessible to young people.
After forty years as a professor of movement, dance, and theatre education, I have seen the power of community-based practices for students, teachers, parents, and the community-at-large. I have also seen what can happen when a school is geographically isolated from a supportive and active community; a school in which students flounder due to a lack of connection to a community. Teachers can also feel detached in such situations. Schools are dismal places when a sense of isolation takes over.
In a community-based school, the walls between the school and the surrounding area are expanded. Teachers, students, administrators and community members work together for the benefit of the students’ learning.
In Musquodoboit Harbour, you can see how this two-way relationship works in practice.
There are a wide range of resources within walking distance from the ESDH, including the library, the Railway Museum, the Old School, the trail, the hospital, the Birches, the bakery, the bank, the pharmacy, the restaurants/cafes, and other businesses.
Just think about the skills that students at ESDH have developed through and within the community in the recent past: museum studies, baking, nursing, gerontology, art gallery management and display, journalism, literacy education, environmental stewardship, theatre, how to run an arts festival, and more. We all know those who’ve gone on from these community-grounded opportunities to great success at school and at work. =
Educational quality matters to communities. Villages around the globe will proudly praise the local school as an asset and source of pride, and a school is often the first building a community develops.
But schools are more than buildings for teaching children; they are community centres, local performance spaces, meeting spaces. Communities are more than locations for schools: they are sources of knowledgeable and skilled adults who are purveyors of after-school courses, in-school guests, coaches. The nearby facilities are extensions of the school itself (community libraries and arts and cultural institutions and spaces), jobs and internships.
We all know those moments when we can feel the power of community-based schools. It’s the school play, where proud community members applaud the talent of the young people. It’s Friday at the library, where students come to sample a new dish, or teachers drop in to pick some food up to share with a needy student. It’s the community space where a student tutors a new immigrant or takes a fitness class. It’s the science fair, the art show in a local gallery, the soccer team practicing and getting pointers from a former pro, the conversation in the local café about an upcoming event. It’s the prom parade and graduation, when the students are cheered on by the whole community and sent off into the world with all the support and belief in themselves a village can generate.
ESDH has been that school in the past, and can be again, for all of the teachers and students along the Shore.
Full disclosure: Karen Bradley is a retired professor and is married to the editor of the Cooperator, but does not always agree with him, nor he with her.