Gray Matters — Change is the constant

By Tanya Mitchell | Jan 30, 2014
Source: File image

Belfast — About five years ago, I started looking for a place to live in Swanville.

I was living in a small apartment in Belfast at the time, and with an almost-four-year-old boy, I wanted to find a place with a yard so he would have a safe place to play.

I also decided at that time that I really wanted Shane to begin his school career at the Kermit Nickerson School, a small elementary school with a great staff that seemed to know each child by name, and most of the parents who came by, too.

I knew the school from growing up in East Belfast. I attended the East Belfast Elementary School as a child, but lots of my young neighbors attended the Nickerson School and all of them had built lasting friendships with their classmates by the time we all came together at the former Robertson School for our sixth grade years.

As an adult, my profession brought me to the Swanville school for all kinds of events, like the annual egg drop, a science-centered event that inspires students in each grade to create a container that can prevent an egg from breaking if dropped from the extended bucket of a cherry picker on a Central Maine Power truck. Whole families have attended the egg drop for years, and as the kids grow, they come to look forward to it each year. The same is true of the yearly Thanksgiving Dinner, which draws siblings, parents and grandparents to the school to share a meal with the students and staff each year.

The school also put a lot of emphasis on anti-bullying programs, an issue that is super important to me as a mom, so when it came time for my son to start school, the Nickerson School was where I wanted him to be.

I am pleased to say Shane has grown and learned so much during his four years there, and the staff has exceeded my expectations. I'm not saying everything has always been perfect, because every school year has its challenges, but overall I've been very impressed.

These days, the big news in Regional School Unit 20 is the three consolidation concepts the board of directors is in the midst of considering. All of the ideas on the table include the closure of the Nickerson School, and of course that makes me sad because we have had such a great experience there.

That said, I realize the district must take drastic measures in order to keep costs down while also maintaining the programs the keep students engaged and interested. I also recognize people in the community have been spending lots of time talking about the issue, and their concerns, everywhere we go — grocery store, post office, etc.

That's a good thing, for sure, because these are important decisions that carry lasting consequences. But what I feel is an unfortunate side affect is the unintended, but very real, adverse impacts it has had on the kids.

Well, mine at least.

For the third time this year, my eight-year-old son came home from school and expressed his worry that "they're" going to close his school and he will have to go to Searsport instead. He followed up with,"And I don't want to go to Searsport."

That made me raise an eyebrow.

First I explained that the school closure is still in the discussion stages, and no solid decisions have been made yet. Then I asked him how he knows he doesn't want to go to Searsport, as he's never attended that school.

He couldn't answer that.

Then I informed him that a few of his cousins attend school there. I then took that chance to clarify that IF his school closed, and IF the students are moved to Searsport, they would likely all go to the new school together, as would some of the staff at Nickerson that he has come to know and love.

"Oh," he said, thoughtfully. "Well maybe it wouldn't be so bad going to Searsport after all."

It can be difficult to see your child stressing out about an issue, especially since the ultimate decision in this case lies solely with us adults. I don't have all the answers for my son, and all I can do is assure him that all of us grown-ups are doing the very best we can with the information we have.

They say the only constant in life is change, and life experience tells me such is the case. What better teaching moment can demonstrate that better than the ongoing discussions about school consolidation, an adult issue that could directly impact the kids depending on the decisions the adults make at the end of the day?

The fact is, I don't know if my son will be able to finish his fifth grade year at the school he loves, and while I hope he can, I know it may not be in the cards for us.

But if I can help him find ways to accept and embrace change, and to view a new situation not as something to be feared but as an adventure from which to learn something new, I think that is the best I can do for him as a parent.

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