RIVER JOHN SOS: makerspace & more


RIVER JOHN Support Our SchoolUpdate
(first published in The River John Pioneer)

Those who attended the open house held by the River John Support Our School committee on September 24th know the summer was busy. From painting buildings, circulating petitions, talking with media to the weekly meetings we held to clarify our strategy for our way forward—it was hardly a vacation. The months that follow will be even busier.

The reality? As Rev. Dickson and Linda Thomson-Reid found out when they met with Superintendent Gary Clarke and CCRSB staff in August, we have a lot of work to do. And we will need to show how we can come up with a lot of money. The SOS has until March to create a business case for a re-imagined Community Hub School. This will be presented to the Chignecto Central Regional School Board for consideration in accordance with the Department of Education’s parameters (These criteria were finally established and released in July, two months earlier than anticipated).

After receiving our detailed proposal, the Board can then vote to extend the deadline for closure of River John school, (give us more time to see if our proposal is viable), lift the threat of closure once and for all, or close the school in June. At this juncture, there are still a lot of unanswered questions around the finer points of parameters. We are all inventing the wheel together.

The good news is the CCRSB has reached out to River John, Maitland and Wentworth communities and will be working with us and checking in to see how we are progressing as we head towards that March date. The other encouraging factor is we have a strong working SOS Committee and many interested people with expertise who are supporting our effort to save, support and sustain River John School and grow a strong and vibrant community.

We’ve come up with an acronym to help us define and explain the components of our River John hub.

H.ealth and wellness
B.uilding our future

The health and wellness component means space in our School for a community health clinic and an organized, recreation program to increase the use of our gym and generate revenue.

Under the unity umbrella, among other things, we are exploring a River John Continuing Education School/College. This would mean evening, weekend and summer use of the school with a curriculum that would evolve out of the community’s needs and interests and provide outreach opportunity for other established educational institutions in the province. Again, this would generate revenue. A Traditional Crafts and Creative Arts Studio and a Repair and Recycle Workshop are other ideas being researched. Small membership fees to cover costs might be required from those interested in using that space. A few community organizations have expressed an interest in leasing space in the school as well. From starting a Saturday morning flea market to planning more community nights and feasts and festivals, we envision enhancing the wonderful school we have already so the heart of our community becomes the “hub“ of our community whenever possible. All ideas are welcome!

The B_for Building our future is called (for now) “The Scholar Ship.” This is best described as rural discovery/interpretive centre based on River John’s Shipbuilding past, fisheries and agricultural present. A small model of one of the River John’s early ships would be designed and built in what is now the library. In effect, this is a hands-on teaching lab where experiential, traditional and 21st century education is combined. This will provide a learning environment in the school that will meet curriculum outcomes for River John students. Although an ambitious undertaking, this centre will be exciting and beneficial for all children and families on the North shore of Nova Scotia and beyond. This could make River John a tourist destination along the Sunrise Trail. After hours, on weekends and in summer time The Scholar Ship will provide revenue and work opportunities. Already, we have some funding agencies and sources interested.  This brings the conversation back to the bottom line. Money.

Is it do-able? Can we keep our school open by creating our HUB model, one the board will approve, encourage and work with us on?  Well, we will try our very best. We will go after and exhaust every source of funding we can find. We will look for donors and partners.  We know there are board members who support River John School and those who believe that some small rural schools must and can stay open.

Our vision is excellent and clear; our ideas are educationally sound and relevant and forward-looking. Our team includes hard working parents stretching themselves beyond their limits, but we need every parent and everyone in the community to care and engage whenever they can, however they can, to make this Hub a reality. To execute we will need fundraising strategy and proof of secured funding--business heads as well as passionate hearts. We will need volunteers. Yes, money, too. Where there’s a bill, if there’s a will, there’s a way.

It feels like we are preparing to audition for the television show the Dragon’s Den in March. Except there is one big difference—we are not entrepreneurs, we are concerned citizens who do not want our children evicted from our village school. We believe bigger is not always better. The other difference is we are not dealing with Dragons. We elected our school board officials and they and school board staff get paid to do the best, the very best they can for our children. They are human beings who, like us, must do their best for our children. The Department of Education’s parameters have made it clear that it is not just money that counts in evaluating any hub school proposal. There are qualitative factors to consider.

We have a good school now and a great plan and we know there are a lot of people interested in helping us make it even better. River John Students Soar!


 1. Warden Ronnie Baillie provided the support out School committee with significant financial support in its efforts to keep River John Consolidated School open. Not only did he facilitate the council's approval of 35,000 grant to offset the school's current 173,000 operating deficit, he obtained the council's authorization to provide 25,000 toward hiring a co-ordinator's position!

2. A architect with 38 years experience ( a lot of work in schools) is helping us as we re-imagine and re configure the space.

3. Our rural discovery centre idea does not have to be over the top expensive to be state of the art! We have discovery centre educators who are eager to help us. AND... converting our space in the library to a learning lab and interactive educational space, sharing our space in the kitchen and the wood working studio with the community--all of these are ideas  on the cutting edge of education for the future. Another new buzz word is "makerspace". We a creating a makerspace in our library and our school and our village. What we create—place-based learning—will be of benefit to all North Shore families, students in the CCRSB district and will, eventually, attract tourism revenue.

We are open to sponsors! Ideas! Volunteers. Fundraisers. We are Hopeful! 

We hope to make education history in Nova Scotia by becoming a Hub School instead of another small school closing. We'd like to show how small schools with a vibrant community behind them, imagination and a lot of work can and should stay open so students can learn where they live and live where they learn and the whole community realize the benefit. Last night's community presentation available on request.

Place-Based Learning, Place-Based Education


In place-based education, the community provides the context for learning, student work focuses on community needs and interests, and com- munity members serve as resources and partners in every aspect of teaching and learning. Following in the tradition of progressive education and a pedagogical approach commonly called “experiential learning,” this multidisciplinary learning strategy is rooted in what is local—the unique history, environment, culture, and economy of a particular place. By pairing real world relevance with intellectual rigor, this local focus has the power to engage students academically while promoting genuine citizen- ship and preparing people to live well wherever they choose.

Key Principles

Place-based learning, as defined by the Rural School and Community Trust, is based on the following principles:

  • The school and community actively collaborate to make the local place a good one in which to learn, work, and live.
  • Students do sustained academic work that draws upon and contributes to the place in which they live. They practice new skills and responsibilities, serving as scholars, workers, and citizens in their community.
  • The community supports students and their adult mentors in these new roles. Enthusiasm for place-based education spreads as the learning deepens, steadily involving more students, teachers, administrators, and community participants.
  • Schools mirror the democratic values they seek to instill, arranging their resources so that every child is known well and every child’s participation is needed and wanted, regardless of ability.
  • Decisions about the education of the community’s children are shared, informed by expertise both in and outside school.
  • All participants, including teachers, students, and community members, expect excellent effort from each other and review their joint progress regularly and thoughtfully. Multiple measures and public input enlarge assessments of student performance.