Partnerships sure, not investment

To those of us raised in regimented, rote-drill lessons, seated in militarily precise rows this can look like barely controlled chaos

Last week, Campbell River’s board of education learned that the community’s children have taken it upon themselves to eradicate invasive species and create a welcoming garden space along the Willow Creek greenbelt.

We can imagine what proud local parents must be thinking: “Oh, yeah? Then why can’t I get Bobby and Suzie to mow the lawn or even pull a weed now and then.”

Patience, folks. That day may well be coming. While the big picture of education in B.C. remains murky, the intimate snapshots we’re seeing in lessons like Southgate Middle School’s Millenium Park project show educators and students alike are embracing and thriving in an interest-based learning model.

To those of us raised in regimented, rote-drill lessons, seated in militarily precise rows in alphabetical order, this instruction can look like barely controlled chaos.

And a heck of a lot of fun.

At Southgate, we’ve seen students and their teachers team with volunteers from the non-profit Greenways Land Trust to rehabilitate the neglected space along Willow Creek, which had become overrun with blackberries and Scotch broom and marred by oil leached into the ground and water.

By tearing out the invasive species and planting new, native shrubs and trees, by building trails and gathering spaces, the students have created a welcoming environment that they’re willing to spend time working in even after school hours.

“It’s a win-win on so many levels,” said Cynthia Bendickson, acting operations manager for Greenways. “It’s fantastic work going on there, and necessary work. It’s really great for the environment in Campbell River, too, to try to get some of these spaces that have been a bit negelected looked after.”

Yes, kudos to the students, the teachers and the volunteers from the non-profit Greenways.

Would that we could get the same commitment to the commons from government, which, after all, is supposed to be us.

At the same board of education meeting the Millenium Park project was showcased, trustees struggled with the impacts of Ministry of Education funding cuts coming over the next three years. And they learned from North Island College president John Bowman that his school would be seeking more private-sector “investment” in the coming years due to similar cuts in public funding.

And a recent feel-good story from Discovery Passage Elementary, thanking community donors for providing learning tools and equipment, masked the fact that the schools simply do not have budgets to purchase that equipment themselves. It is ultimately our choice as parents, citizens and taxpayers where we want to prioritize the limited pool of public funds to which we contribute. Partnerships, like the example of Greenways, are one thing. But the drawback to relying on private investment is that many investors who have funds to spare expect a return on those dollars.

Let’s ensure students continue to do their work for the public good as a labour of love, and not as child labour.