Five Downtown Schools Cooperating

Within a few kilometers of each other in downtown Charlottetown are 5 elementary schools — Parkdale, Prince Street, Spring Park, St. Jean, and West Kent. Each school serves its own neighbourhoods, and while all the students from these schools will eventually end up in high school together at Colonel Gray together, there’s remarkably little communication among the schools, especially at the home and school level.

Downtown Schools Map in Charlottetown

When the PEI Home and School Federation announced its Parent Leadership Grant program last fall, we at Prince Street School thought it would be an interesting idea to make a joint application as a five-school consortium.

And so, late in 2011, we had a meeting of the home and school executives of the schools. It was one of those meetings that work as meetings are supposed to: we started with a blank piece of paper, with no real idea of what we might do and emerged 2 hours later with a joint proposal that, we thought, would address a real need.

The very fact of the meeting itself was a very positive step: just getting us all in the same room as each other, talking about our school communities, we all learned a lot. And therein lies a sort of alterior motive on my part: we all know that in the years to come there will be changes in the education system that will likely see, at the very least, school attendance zones reconfigured, and perhaps even one or more of our schools closed or changing its role.  In light of the chaos the reigned when the Eastern School District went through its school rationalization 2 years ago, it seemed wise to get out in front of this as parents, and the first step in the process is to get everyone comfortable with each other, and get everyone knowing a lot more about the other downtown schools.

And, in part, that was the “real need” that our application for funding sought to address; here’s the preamble to our application:

Each school has experienced challenges with parental involvement in the school: while each has a core of parents who are highly involved in school life, comfortable in the school, and participating in the home and school association, there are many more parents who have very little or no involvement at all. We recognize that there are many reasons for this, and further realize that is unreasonable to expect all parents to participate to the same degree; however we also realize that a very small amount of “engagement” with their children’s education can pay off significantly. Knowing this, our primary goal is simple and modest: to create informal recreational and social activities, inside and outside the walls of our partner schools, to bring together parents, students and teachers and staff.

Secondarily, by working together on a joint project, we five downtown Charlottetown elementary schools wish to strengthen the connections between our school communities. Our schools have much in common: we are each small elementary schools of a similar age, we are all located within a few kilometers of each other, we each serve socio-economically and ethnically diverse communities. And yet, historically, our school communities have had little contact, meaning that opportunities for sensible cooperation are missed, and preconceived notions about each school have been allowed to fester. We seek to address this first by the mere fact of our cooperation and, second, by creating opportunities for parents and students to visit and participate in activities in other downtown schools.

You can read the entire application here; the heart of it is, in essence, “let’s get parents together, across school boundaries, for activities that are engaging and fun.” (And by “engaging and fun” we really mean “that are not like the usual home and school activities like ‘Help Protect Your Child from Internet Predators’).

Late in 2011 we received word that our application was successful and we were awarded $4,400 for the project; we have until the end of August to complete it.

We held a follow-up meeting last night with an even larger group of parents from the schools, along with a couple of principals. We’ve got subcommittees looking into things like space, transportation (many of our school families actually live in the suburbs), and groups we might partner with. We’re working on a survey to sent home with the combined 1,121 students in the schools to gauge their interest in various sorts of activities.

I’m really excited about this project: my experience over the past 5 years that Oliver has been in elementary school has been that being a parent or guardian of an elementary school student is a great leveller: no matter income, language, neighbourhood or situation at home, the challenges we all face are the same.  That great commonality is, I think, an excellent base upon which to build increased parent engagement in education, and, outside of school completely, stronger communities.