A most important lesson we learned when our school was burned to the ground by the bushfires in January was that schools, particularly in regional communities, are the beating heart of their region. The Minister for Education recognised this immediately following his visit to our community just days after the fires – it was the basis of his decision to build a temporary school and re-build a school on the site permanently. So let’s breathe real life back into this community as we plan the new school so that it becomes the life force for everything we do in this region.
But let’s make it a whole school, not a collection of buildings surrounded by a protective fence. Let’s recognise that a whole school includes the community – the way it is built, operates, sits on the site, reflects what is beyond those fences, invites community in and welcomes them warmly. Let’s have a school that is for whole of life, which generates enterprise, encourages community participation, that has the capacity to be flexible so that people learn through doing, not just through teaching.
What does a 21st century school look like anyway? How can we make it flexible in design so it can keep up with the rapid changes our children face? Imagine how our future teaching recruits are going to teach our students. How do kids learn, what do they learn, what do they need to know? It is obviously a very broad range of skills if they are going to average 14 careers in their lifetime, as the experts will now tell us! What is the level of parent engagement in education – and if we engage them in education, does this enhance the children’s experience? How do we do that and make it valuable to their own life experience?
We have a magnificent environment, beautiful coastline, wonderful forests as well as enterprising, hardworking people. Our local industries are currently focused around dairy, potatoes, fishing, timber, viticulture, sheep, wool, tourism, aquaculture, hospitality and a growing combination of these. They are a reflection of what our school should encompass in the way it feels and looks and how it provides quality education and experiences that serve everyone.
The recently established but very successful Bream Creek Farmers’ Market stemmed from a school fundraising project when we held a Farmers Market stall at the Bream Creek Show, which then led to the establishment of a Committee to run a community market. The School is a partner in this market with the purpose of developing an enterprise at the School to encourage the children, in conjunction with community members, to grow, value-add and sell produce through their own or the community market stalls. This was underway as part of the newly established Play Garden destroyed in the fires. The children are encouraged to assist the P&F in their own Farmers‘ Market enterprise, cooking and selling meals made from locally grown produce, and in turn raising awareness of the produce available in our region; being involved in the production and retail process; and developing their social skills through their interaction with other children and adults from their community. It is a source of constant positive comment from patrons of the Market that the students are part of this partnership. It underscores a fundamental tenet of rural life that everyone pitches in, even from an early age as children will learn by doing. This resonates strongly with the wider community.
The Community Kitchen project planned for the school gym is another extension of this project where not only will the School benefit from having all the facilities of a kitchen for teaching, fundraising, health and well-being; but the whole community benefits by having a function centre, community kitchen for production purposes (in partnership with the Farmers Market) and enabling meaningful and supportive interaction between producers and students. And importantly it extends the educational experience to people way beyond their formal school years through trade training or other hospitality, cooking or food production experiences. It is a great opportunity to extend food tourism opportunities into our wonderfully rich region. All of this stemmed from one small school-based enterprise.
There are no bounds as to how this example can be reflected in many other community enterprises but still enrich the teaching/learning process for teachers and students. The boat building project is another example of our community reaching into the school to create real learning experiences for all of us and this can be and has been extended to the fishing and aquaculture industries, boat tourism; boat safety training and the Living Boat Trust project in conjunction with Dunalley Slip, MAST, local businesses, and the Neighbourhood House, to name a few.
Similarly, the community assets that will be re-built as a result of the destruction by the bushfires, such as the Memorial Hall and the sporting and youth facilities, will also reflect and serve the needs of the School and its students, and in fact enhance and expand their life experiences in the region. Those new structures will all be used as alternative learning spaces for our students. For example, the Memorial Hall will be built with a focus on performance and arts just across the road from our School – a great asset to our powerful drama programme.
Let’s drop the barriers and develop a school that becomes a creative force in the community, not just an educative one.
Let’s remember that we were able to create the temporary school in 40 days because the Minister, the Department of Education and the community worked as one to achieve a vision that was real, purposeful and heartfelt. It was what the community wanted and needed.
Above all, let’s fully recognise, as we all did in a time of crisis, that the school is the beating heart of the community. How do we design it to ensure that the community flows in and out of the school; that it becomes a school of life; that it reflects the life experiences that our children encounter every day in their own community; and, importantly, that it is flexible enough for the children to create what they want to out of their education? We only have to look to and around our community for the answers.
Elizabeth Knox, Chair
Dunalley School Association
“Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.”