Engaging the Public in Public Education

We all want New Brunswick to flourish.  We all want New Brunswick families to flourish.  We all need New Brunswick children to flourish. 

The question is how do we as citizens, and our government through its education system, best turn that necessity into reality? 

Back on July 16th, 2016, New Brunswick Premier Brian Gallant posted on his Facebook page that: “Education is the best investment we can make to ensure that we have economic growth in the long term and it also happens to be the best social equalizer.”

The 10-year education plan released last fall entitled “Everyone at Their Best” provided a good roadmap for moving education forward in terms of both process and results. The time has come for the rubber to hit the road. A community group in Sackville called “Sackville Schools 2020” wants to help get the show on the road. 

The quality of schools, and in turn public education, has often been measured, calculated and studied in any number of ways. These include looking at class sizes, literacy percentages, public funding received, and graduation rates for example. Frequently this practice simply tells the story from the outside in and not the inside out. We get the numbers without the nuance, the evaluation without the enthusiasm, and the measure of the performance without the meaning behind the pursuit.

What can get lost in the process is discovering what engages learners, what motivates and inspires them. Favourite subjects and teachers will always be important, but nowadays other factors must be considered. Flexible learning spaces, outdoor education opportunities, experiential learning connections, equipped community mentors, character development initiatives and project-based learning all contribute to a great school experience for students, teachers and families alike.  Creating a locally-based, community-attuned, teacher-enabled 21st century education model is the call of “Everyone at Their Best” that we need to respond to now. 

Even before graduation, a student’s sense of belonging and connectedness can contribute to a community flourishing. Pride of place, community identification, and sense of self can inspire entrepreneurs, increase respect and empathy between young and old, and encourage environmental protection. Movement toward social equalization and resilience begins.  Character, creativity and collaboration combine with reading, writing and arithmetic to establish a new normal for how we prepare our children and our communities for the transition to a globally-connected information economy. These measures do not even account for what a modern school facility itself can offer to the local population.

Character, creativity and collaboration combine with reading, writing and arithmetic to establish a new normal for how we prepare our children and our communities for the transition to a globally-connected information economy.

An inviting, bright, contemporary and accessible public school building encourages the community to make it its own. Seniors clubs, non-profits, and volunteer associations have a new place to gather.  Sports teams, afterschool programs and outdoor clubs have a place to grow and play together.  Community minded education during the school day leads to greater interest in the school for other purposes.  A great school becomes a hub of activity throughout the calendar year, providing much-needed space for a wide range of programs and events.

Beautiful, inviting, accessible school facilities are an asset to the entire community. Saunalahti school in Finland houses a day care centre, preschool, youth house offering leisure activities and a combined school/community library. The building is used on evenings and weekends by local clubs and community groups. Local residents actively use the school's gymnastics facility, sport fields and play grounds. The building, with its versatile array of services, is a meeting place for families in the area. (Photo: Andreas Meichsner)

Beautiful, inviting, accessible school facilities are an asset to the entire community. Saunalahti school in Finland houses a day care centre, preschool, youth house offering leisure activities and a combined school/community library. The building is used on evenings and weekends by local clubs and community groups. Local residents actively use the school's gymnastics facility, sport fields and play grounds. The building, with its versatile array of services, is a meeting place for families in the area. (Photo: Andreas Meichsner)

The economic benefits of a great school are immense. The intended benefits of inspiring and equipping each student with the best skills, knowledge and competencies to find meaningful and gainful employment in the world are fundamental. This is the human capital investment that governments often highlight and an area in which New Brunswick has the potential to be a leader.  Imagine if our universities and NBCC campuses were incorporated into this vision.  New Brunswick would be seen as a model for innovation in education—we would have what other provinces have not.

A vision of community hub schools with innovative curriculum developments and delivery is not some fantastical imagining. Here in Sackville and across the province educators are beginning the shift toward experiential learning and outdoor education. The need is to celebrate it, systematize it, and determine ways to facilitate more movement toward a 21st century education to prepare our children for a changing world and a 21st century economy.

There is also the attractiveness of a great school to people from outside the community or province. The kind of schools that are available for the children of potential new employees in a business operation can be a real dealmaker or breaker.  People will come from away and move to a new place if a great school is ready to welcome their children.

People will come from away and move to a new place if a great school is ready to welcome their children.

A great educational network that benefits the whole community is one of the principle goals of the movement that is Sackville Schools 2020. It is also a way to ensure “Everyone at Their Best” becomes a living, breathing document. Sackville is poised to move from a model of isolated classrooms and corridors, to a fluid community-based model.  We have everything to gain and our children deserve it.

(Telegraph-Journal Op-Ed
Published April 4, 2017
)

Header photo: Andreas Meichsner