Gray Matters - Come together, for right now
Belfast — Last week I wrote about what it was like to explain the very adult issue of potential school closures to my eight-year-old son.
Shane's school, the Nickerson School in Swanville, was one of those that would have been closed as part of the three consolidation concepts that were under consideration by the Regional School Unit 20 Board of Directors.
In the week since I penned my last column, the board has since decided to put consolidation on hold pending the outcome of the withdrawal efforts that are ongoing in the eight district towns.
So now we're back to the district continuing on as it was, at least for now. That said, the board must still create a budget for next year in an economic climate that hasn't gotten any friendlier for Maine schools, municipalities, and least of all, local taxpayers.
With the district operating on pretty lean budgets in recent years, all of the schools in the district have had to make do with a little less each year. I would bet it hasn't been easy for any of the staffs, but from where I sit, the schools in the RSU have done a great job with making sure the kids get the most of their educational experiences.
While these times have posed a lot of financial challenges for us and other schools across the state, I feel like this presents us with a great opportunity for the communities within the RSU to either move toward making the district the best it can be going forward, or go out on a positive note should the withdrawal efforts be successful.
At Shane's school, for example, reductions in staff have meant fewer people on board to help do the awesome projects for which families in Swanville have come to love the school. One of those projects has been the fantastic digital yearbook, which had always been a labor of love for one very special school staffer who I recently learned is unable to do it this year due to a reduction in her hours.
Some of us parents got together before the Christmas break and talked about how much we loved the yearbook, and the big unveiling party that involves the entire school community at the end of the school year. We all knew we wanted to find a way to help, especially when we were unsure whether the kids were spending their last year at Nickerson.
Then we decided we could work together, attending as many school events as possible and taking as many photos as possible for use in a parent-generated version of the yearbook. As time went on, we kicked around more ideas about ways to extend the project to the kids. Can we find a way to let the kids participate, and use this as a way to expose the students to the art of photography?
It's all still a work in progress, but in the meantime, I have made it a point to go to more school events than what I had previously. In doing so, I've had a great time getting to know the students, parents and staff even better than I did before.
These kinds of ideas are the result of members of a small school community coming together to make the best of a tough situation.
I think it's great, and I know it goes on at other schools all over the district.
I'll bet there are lost of folks in our communities who have a lot to offer our kids. I've lived in Waldo County all my life, and I'm always amazed by the wide variety of people who have chosen this place as their home. Every kind of person you can think of, from artists and authors to game wardens and scientists, is represented here. Just recently, The Journal published a story about a physician who did some work in Africa. I would think elementary aged students would give their full attention to someone like that, who has had the experience of visiting a place halfway around the world, and I have no doubt that such a presentation would inspire young kids to learn more about a place that before was merely an image on a map.
I know there are no guarantees about the future of this RSU, but in the meantime, there are lots of ways we can all support the district in its ultimate mission, which is to give our children the best education possible.
Even those who do not have children or grandchildren in the schools might find they have something they can pass on to the next generation of learners.
And the best part is, when you give of yourself in that way, the kids whose lives you've touched will return the favor with their attention, appreciation and love. And who knows? Perhaps they'll gain a new lifelong passion to which you introduced them.
Maybe these kids will grow up, make their lives here, and return to their schools to share their skills one day because of the example we as community members set for them when they were young.
I cannot think of a better reason for each of us to find a way to come together for the kids in this district so we can all do the best we can, at least for now.
I also can't think of a better way to brighten your own day than spending some time with a bunch of kids.