Schools – the heart of the community

picnic

There are some things that I don’t think you truly get until you become a parent. For me, one of those things is the role of schools in our society.

Before becoming a parent, I thought schools were simply a place where kids went to learn the curriculum, and, perhaps, participate in a few extra-curricular activities.  However, now that The Girl has almost completed her first full year at public school, I am beginning to realize that schools have a much bigger role to play in our society. Not only are they a place where kids go to learn, they are also places where communities form and develop.

Each morning I have the opportunity to drop my daughter off at school has become a community building opportunity. In the schoolyard waiting for the morning bell to ring, I connect with the people in my neighbourhood, some of whom I have known since their kids and The Girl began daycare together 6 years ago. This has become my social circle. The parents of my daughters friends have now become my friends, and the school and the activities that happen there have become spaces for us to connect and kindle our friendships. To develop our community.

This year, the primary school my daughter is attending turns 100 years old, and the celebrations have ramped up as the year comes to a close. In the past few weeks, my wife and I have attended a school musical celebrating the centenary performed by 150 students, a school sponsored community picnic attended by scores of families, and a special 100th anniversary Victorian tea party at which each class in the school dressed up in costumes representing each of the decades in the school’s 100 year history. Tomorrow, we are marching in a local parade with other families from the school, proudly wearing our red school colours. Each of these events have become shared events in which kids, parents and grandparents have gathered, mingled, talked, danced, laughed, shared food and stories, and played together.

These events have nothing at all to do with the curriculum, but have everything to do with learning. I see it in my daughter as she speaks about her school with pride, singing songs that were composed for the school musical, and feeling like she is at a special place. She is learning about citizenship, civic pride, and the importance of community. I can almost see the roots growing as she moves out of our house and begins connecting to a larger world.

I didn’t get it. But now that I am a parent, I do. I feel like this year I have had my eyes opened, and truly see just how important schools are to our communities – not just for teaching kids the basics of reading, math and science, but the role – the crucial role – that they have in  developing caring and compassionate human beings by nurturing in them a sense of belonging.

I think I get it now.

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