Maybe It Takes a Child To Raise A Village

I know the line is supposed to be  "It takes a village to raise a child."

That's true. But I don't have it backwards. For once, I'm not playing with words. Sometimes, it takes a child to raise a village. Children create and are the heart of any community.

I'm not a politician and I'm not a problem solver. I don't really know how politics "work." I'm a grandmother and an educator and I write sometimes. I've even written about a small rural elementary school in a book called The Hullaballoo Bugaboo Day.It's about what happens to a school the day the school secretary disappears. Spoiler alert: the whole school falls apart. Literally. But the story here is about a school that might be closed down in the village of River John. I live here. For the record, I've no school age children and my grandchildren, both who started school this week, don't live here. (Yes, I wish they did. I wish my own children could have been raised here.)

I want the school to stay open so the heartbeat of this village continues and the children do not have to travel miles out of their community, spend hours on a school bus, when the solution is here.

After a chalksqueakingly narrow escape from shut-down earlier this year, River John residents have less than two years to make the case for a school. Many rural schools in Nova Scotia and across the country have already been closed. Not without a valiant effort on the part of residents to try and keep them open.

Here in Nova Scotia there are die-hard advocates like Nova Scotia Small Schools Initiative and people like Paul Bennett. Right now, he's crisscrossing Nova Scotia again giving talks and signing his recent book. Here is his schedule:

PAUL BENNETT'S BOOK TALKS AND SIGNINGS: The Last Stand: Schools, Communities, and the Future of Rural Nova Scotia 

Thursday September 12 – Book Launch & Talk - J.D. Shatford Public Library, Hubbards at 7 pm
Saturday September 14 – Book Signing, Chapters Bayers Lake, Halifax, 2:30 – 4:00 pm
Thursday September 19 – Book Signing, Bridgewater Mall, 1:00 – 3:00 pm Thursday September 19 – Book Talk, Public Library, Bridgewater at 6:30 pm
Saturday September 21 – Book Signing, Chapters, Moncton, NB, 12:00 noon to 2 pm Sunday September 22 – Book Talk, Word on the Street, Halifax Waterfront, 3 pm
Tuesday September 24 – Book Talk, Public Library, River John, NS – 6:30 pm
Thursday September 26 – Book Signing, Coles, Mayflower Mall, Sydney, 1:00 pm to 3:00 pm
Thursday September 26 – Book Talk, Public Library, Baddeck, Cape Breton, at 7 pm
Saturday September 28 – Chapters, Mic Mac Mall, Dartmouth, 12:00 noon to 2 pm 
Tuesday October 1 – Book Talk, The People’s Place Library, Antigonish at 7 pm.
Thursday October 3 – Book Talk, Genevieve Solomon, Public Library, Georgetown, PEI, 2 pm.
Saturday October 5 – Book Signing, Indigo Books, Charlottetown, NS, 3:00 to 5:00 pm
Thursday October 10 – Book Talk, Public Library, Lunenburg, NS, at 6:30 pm
Thursday October 17 – Book Talk, T.H. Raddall Public Library, Liverpool, NS at 6:30 pm
Thursday October 24 – Book Talk, Communty Fire Hall, Greenfield, NS at 6:30 pm
Tuesday October 29 – Book Talk, Weymouth Public Library, Weymouth, NS at 6:30 pm

So it's not all about money or lack thereof. Not just some kind of numbers game, like something called a hog formula. (Sounds too close to hogwash to me.) But truth is, you can't squeeze blood from a stone. OR maybe stonewall is more accurate. If there's not enough money, how do we find it is the next logical question. How can we keep a school in River John and schools like them, open? Here in River John, there's a lot of people who've been working very very hard on this and still a commitment on the part of residents to find a new way through this. As the fall progresses there will be meetings and residents will be asked how they envision their school staying open and their community thriving, not just surviving.

The thinking here at this time, from what I understand, is that the current school could be downsized, renovated and become an eco-friendly green school combined with a community hub model.

The clock is ticking. I've come late to the party. I'm a CFA—as we say in Atlantic Canada—a come-from-away. (Moncton, Fredericton and Halifax and even almost a decade in—gasp!—Washington D.C.) 

We found River John by mistake and fell in love. This community has so much to offer—and still, so much potential. From the sheer beauty to the new Sunday Morning Market at Lismore Sheep Farm to the best homeade egg rolls in the world at Yap's Place Restaurant, to community church suppers, a new library with a film club. There's a summer literary festival Read By the Sea, sea kayak tours, and houses and properties for sale like this:

...for prices you won't believe. Some for the price of an SUV. (If your children walk to school, you won't have to drive them.) I''ll save my sales pitch for later.

If you look historically, the village of River John has always had a cycle of glory days and hard times. Remarkable that in 1842, someone wrote in a letter to the editor

"Times are so bad that we can't afford to pay for preaching and teaching."

Sound familiar? Yet, 20 years later:

"By 1863 River John was important enough to figure on the itinerary of Edward, Prince of Wales. Queen Victoria's son arrived by stagecoach and was then taken in Charles McLennan's brand new carriage for a drive around the community."

So YES—it'll take children and their parents to save a school and revitalize a village. An influx of young families. Reason for those who are here to stay.  Energy, effort, imagination and will. I'm hopeful this can happen—but the children and their parents can't do it alone—it will take the entire village, young and old, people with children and people without children, to say we need more.

Here's the big one—it will also take a provincial government and Department of Education committed to small schools in rural areas staying open. School Boards in positive dialogue involving members of individual communities who know what their needs are. There's no cookie cutter approach.

To be cliche, if the will is there, there's always a way. A collective will for the sake of our children and the future communities they will inhabit. We are so very lucky—blessed to live where we do. This province and this country. Our children are not, like the children of Syria, being killed and living in a war zone. I do not go to sleep at night without thinking of all the children, the families , the grandmothers living where there is conflict.

I'm grateful I can vote. This election, I'll be voting for the candidate who can look me in the eye and say they are committed to rural regeneration and put an end to the constant threat of small school closure in Nova Scotia once and for all.

Someone once told me you should never leave low stools or small crates around the classroom—they can too easily turn into a soap box. But I'll keep posting here from time to time as this story moves along. Maybe, just maybe, l'll be able write a book one day called: The Little Schools That Could.