Schools and housing – some ideas

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May 12, 2010 by realrenewal

by Patricia Elliott

Could alternative schooling be built into housing projects? Is there a way to do that and keep it publicly funded? What got me thinking is the growing conversation among urban planners that affordable housing initiatives must be accompanied by school planning and, interestingly, school reform.  There’s a webinar by Arthur Nelson of the University of Utah Centre for the New Metropolis that presents the basic concept of schools as centres of community stability, in the first minute. You can find much more at the National Institute of Building Sciences ‘Smart Growth and Schools’ section

The school reform aspect involves promoting smaller scale, more personalized and holistic learning that includes learning from the community. A good repository of the research can be found here at the National Institute of Building Sciences resource clearing house. The Canadian Congress on Learning has been looking into holistic learning concepts, primarily from Aboriginal perspectives. An example is ‘Redefining How Success is Measured in First Nations, Inuit and Metis Learning:’

Meanwhile, across North America – and this is certainly true in Regina’s public system – school administrators are moving in the opposite direction, toward an economy of scale model that promotes large consolidated schools, and an educational direction that is increasingly placeless, de-personalized, standardized, ‘hyper-professionalized’ and divorced from community learning. Accompanying this is a major emphasis on math and reading, which has become the accountability measure demanded by governments and right wing think tanks.  Hence the overcrowded classroom at Albert, where students are bored to death by hours of math. The school system talks a good game around holistic culturally appropriate education reform, but they don’t walk the walk, as First Nations parents are swift to remind us.

When people and systems pull in opposite directions, in the U.S. the result is a growing mix of private and charter schools. We can see this beginning in Saskatchewan as well. Recent example: parents said for years they wanted smaller middle schools to ease the transition to highschool. The Hill family recently announced plans to privately finance such a school.

The same trend in Canada: ‘More alternative schools opening in Toronto than ever before:’ In particular, holistic schools are popping up in more affluent, organized communities. An example is the Whole Child School:

Regina’s version is Prairie Sky School, which describes its approach as non-graded holistic learning. The director opened the school after taking a course through the Alternative Education Resource Organization

The model is based exactly on what First Nations educators and community leaders have been asking of our education system. But it’s private. There’s a tuition fee. Low-income families are de facto excluded.

So that’s what got me thinking, hearing someone in a meeting mention ‘housing,’ ‘children’ and ‘abandoned school’ in one breath. If we want to talk about family housing but the school board only wants to provide a school bus, not a school, to serve a community, what creative alternatives could we come up with? Could a housing initiative include a small-scale, hands-on, high-parental-involvement schooling option? It could start with early years, perhaps in the home or a common area somewhere in the community. It might provide the community an added dimension of resiliency, stability and engagement. And could one create a public model, rather than waiting for the private sector to fill the gap? Could, for example, a First Nations band be engaged? What are the different possibilities?

Education could be an exciting part of the housing picture.

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