It has been years of anxiety in the town of Harrow, Ontario. A small town, with a small secondary school which has had a bullseye on it for a long time. After years of back and forth, it was decided last week to close the school and ship all the students to Kingsville, Ontario. From town centre to town centre, along County Road 20, it’s a distance of 15km. For students in the surrounding area, the total distance to be travelled will vary, of course.
Coming from a community about the size of Harrow where we had our own secondary school, I took a special interest in this. Since the amalgamation of school boards and communities years ago, we’ve seen all kinds of actions like this. The result is bigger and bigger institutions and the landscape is dotted with closed and abandoned buildings. Some get repurposed but they are very few. The logic is that bigger is better, more efficient, and more economical to support.
One of the economic arguments is that the physical building needs repairs. Any home owner will let you know that any structure requires continual and preventative maintenance. If you ignore any building long enough, the potential repair bill soon adds up.
The educational argument is that a more complete program is available as an option in a bigger school with more students, teachers, and classes. But, with eLearningOntario options, this is largely refuted these days. Besides, in Ontario, there always is the option to attend a Catholic school should you wish this. With the number of students that didn’t choose this option, it tells me that parents and students preferred the stay at home option.
There are so many reasons for having a school in your community, whether it’s a small school or a large super school.
- It does become a community hub for students. Sporting events, school dances, community events are right there and you can walk to them and meet with the friends that you grew up with
- Participation in school activities is easily done because you can indeed walk home afterwards. With a bus sitting in the parking lot ready to depart five minutes after the last class, unless you have your own extra transportation plans, you won’t be able to get involved
- Student buying power can’t be ignored. Whether it’s visiting a local restaurant at lunch or some other purchasing outing, local businesses thrive because of the purchase desires of youth
- Lifelong friendships happen in high school. I still remain in touch with many friends from my high school days. University friends? Not so much
- Pride in community – there’s something special about having everything in your local community. I can remember going to the high school on snow days when the buses weren’t running. It’s where your friends are; it’s just what you do
The list could go on and on. It involves everything other than the economics or the academics. It goes to those other intangibles that makes a school a school and part of the community. Sadly, they seem to have fallen by the wayside in search of the big and the efficient. Unless you’ve attended a school in a small town or your focus is on bean counting, you can’t really appreciate the above intangibles.
Small schools tend to go that extra mile to make things happen for students. The teaching load can be far more diverse and teachers work hard to make sure that traditional and non-traditional opportunities are available for students. Brian Aspinall, a graduate of Harrow District High School, is fond of letting us know that he obtained professional computer certification with the support of his teachers during his time there.
Think of your own high school experiences. There may be some sad memories but most of them are happy, I’ll bet. But, when you peel back the covers, the common thread boils down to community.
You don’t have that real sense when you’re sitting on a yellow bus for the time that it takes to stop and go, gather all the riders, and then bump along to another community altogether.
It’s just sad to think. My old high school went through the same issue a few years back but some real imagination by the board of trustees and administration made great things happen in a building that wasn’t fully needed by the school.
Of course, this passion and frustration will pass. In a few years, there will be a whole new generation that’s just used to getting up extra early for the long bus ride to school in another town.
On the weekend, they may walk by this old abandoned building and wonder about what might have been.
Let’s just hope the town doesn’t become an entry here.