The halls are alive with light, laughter, positive energy, and lots of interaction. This is how we used to describe Horsefly Elementary, Junior, Secondary School—not just during the day, but in the evenings as well. If you want something to happen in a small community, you need to do it yourself. We don’t have organized sports teams like hockey, soccer, or baseball; we don’t have Boy Scouts, Girl Guides, etc. What we do have is a community that is engaged. People who voluntarily organize activities and events that are open to all members of the community: soccer, badminton, yoga, kickboxing, volleyball, fitness, and we’ve even had fencing. We do this because it’s good for our families and children, encourages positive peer and intergenerational interaction, enhances social skills, and creates a sense of community belonging. All this amazing positive mental and physical health promotion—for free! But that’s not the case anmore.
And it’s not because we don’t have interest or volunteers. It’s because our school is now dark, unwelcoming, inaccessible, and closed in the evenings. The School District is revisiting and revising its facility use policy, and has discovered that the current policy wasn’t being properly “enforced.” So what does this mean for this community? The cost of renting and also paying a custodian are formidable because we don’t have the population to support these high rates: the number of people participating is small so the amount of money an individual has to pay is high, which makes participation inaccessible for most members of the community.
Access to positive after-school activities is critical for overall family and community health. Currently, many informal and non-profit user groups offer free or low-cost, positive recreational and skill building programs to children, youth, and families in our community. These programs reinforce and expand on what is being taught in the classroom. Children and adults practice how to work in teams, develop social skills, and participate in positive activities. The school becomes an extension of the community and vice versa. Unfortunately, many families and community members are no longer able to participate due to the high cost of rent and the custodial fee. It’s not clear how dark, empty schools contribute to a sense of belonging and healthy communities, especially when one considers that schools directly benefit from what students, their parents, and community members learn and achieve in these after-school and evening programs.
We recognize the financial challenges the school district is facing; they are the same challenges that many of our families, businesses, and community groups are facing as well. But schools do not subsidize community activities—at least not in this one. The community of Horsefly, and we suspect this is similar in many other rural communities, contributes significantly to our school in terms of financial and volunteer support to students and school programs, not to mention the active support of after-school activities. We challenge the new Board of Trustees to consult and engage in creative problem solving as it looks to revise the facilities use policy. Our community needs the school to be accessible not just during the day, but in evening as well. We, and many others, would welcome the opportunity to participate in finding a creative solution that reflects a collaborative way of caring for our children, youth, and families.
Cindy Augustine and Carla Bullinger, on behalf many Horsefly community user groups.