Local organization lobbying for updated facilities and programs in Sackville’s public schools
Outdated public schools in Sackville may be a threat to the community’s reputation as a learning community. Sackville Schools 2020 is a group of community members who are working to prevent this by bringing 21st-century education to Salem Elementary, Marshview Middle School and Tantramar Regional High School.
Sackville Schools 2020 was organized in response to the provincial government threatening to close down the nearby Dorchester Consolidated School in 2015, due to a declining number of students. There was rising concern that the same might happen in Sackville due to the small student population and deteriorating conditions of the buildings. Citizens learned through individual research that when the provincial government decides to order a new school, the Department of Transportation is in charge of building the facility. This means that the people in town have no input on what or where the school is. “They have a formula. We’re talking cinderblock hallway, egg-carton schools… That is not 21st-century learning,” said Michael Fox, Mount Allison professor and member of Sackville Schools 2020. “We want to take the future of education in Sackville into our own hands.”
The concept of 21st-century learning involves a change in curriculum and infrastructure. The group has looked at many ideas for building an innovative school in the town. One option that the group promotes is building a kindergarten to grade 12 school closer to the centre of town, where students could benefit from shared facilities and Mt. A resources. “We’ve got a gym at Salem, a gym at Marshview, a gym at Tantramar, a gym at Mt. A, we’ve got a library at each place, and they’re all weak and separated and they don’t even have any full-time staff,” said Fox.
Students are also keen for a change in local schools. Grace Ferella, a 10th-grade student at Tantramar, said, “The schools feel very outdated, so it could be nice if they used all the resources Sackville has in one space.”
The proposed changes are based in the concept of “neighbourhoods of learning,” where ideas like experiential learning take precedence over concepts such as academic years and marks. Local teachers fall on both sides of the debate to add experiential learning to the curriculum. Tanya Bostick, a music teacher at Tantramar Regional High School who supports Sackville Schools 2020, said, “We can share ideas and accommodate the needs of our community through experiential learning.”
The committee also promotes bringing environmental stewardship programs into schools and outdoor learning into the curriculum. Sackville Schools 2020 has already brought learning outdoors through initiatives like building an outdoor classroom at the elementary school and restoring a library courtyard at the middle school. The goal of these programs is to put emphasis on teaching attributes such as creativity, critical thinking and leadership. The committee hopes that in the longer term, these approaches to education will be built into the curriculum.
Looking forward, Sackville Schools 2020 aims to meet with the premier of New Brunswick to discuss the plans for the town. The committee also wants to receive a community development fund through the federal government. However, the group wants to emphasize that they will not wait for policy-makers to pay attention to Sackville, and that the group will continue to fight for modern education by creating new programs, with or without government support. “Very little [of the district’s] time or attention has ever been paid to Sackville, so we’re not waiting,” said Fox. “This is the moment.”