Saturday, 15 June 2013

Schools at the heart of the Community

What does it, in fact, mean for a school to have the word 'community' in it's title? Does it make it a different, special type of school in any way, or are all schools, to greater or lesser extent, community schools? It is my belief that they are (or at least should be).

To start with, schools are, in their own right, communities. Courtesy of a certain online encyclopaedia, we can look at the definition of community as:

The term community has two distinct commutative meanings: 1) Community can refer to a usually small, social unit of any size that shares common values. The term can also refer to the national community or international community, and 2) in biology, a community is a group of interacting living organisms sharing a populated environment.

And whichever definition you take, a school is a community! A school needs a set of common values that it holds close and tries to instil into new members, for example. But/and it is a community of living organisms sharing an environment.

But it should be so much more than that too. A community shouldn't 'just' be a group of people who share a living environment. There's an implication that the members of the community care about and support each other, too. And that is what 'good' communities do. There is a recognition that the community is made up from people from a wide range of backgrounds, and holding many disparate views and opinions, but despite that (or even because of that) they look out for each other.

At Sandymoor, we have asked all our current students to be mentors for the new intake. Each new student joining us in September has a named student who will lo out for them on arrival and help them settle in. Our mentors have already written introductory letters that have been posted to our new arrivals (a good use of time in English lessons, with the construction of a good letter, handwriting, grammar and spelling, etc...!)

Who, though, are the members of a school community? Teachers/support staff and students, of course, but also parents and the wider family unit too, surely? Schools talk a good talk over the 'home-school' relationship, but this can often be little more than talk. (To paraphrase Sir Ken Robinson, what school wouldn't talk about home-school communication!). But this is too frequently a relationship that is one-sided. The school sits there and says to the home; "we want you to be part of your child's education, but on our terms, please." The parents always have to go to the school, at times dictated to by the school, to find out about their child's progress.

At Sandymoor, we offer home visits, at times to suit busy family lives. We are currently in the process of visiting homes that have requested this service and whilst being incredibly tiring, I can say that it is proving to be so worthwhile (again, having done it last year too). To sit in a family's home and talk about their hopes and dreams for their child is a truly humbling experience, reminding me again and again why I am so passionate about teaching. And I sometimes hear things that will help us support a young person who has a more difficult path ahead. Foresight can truly help us put in the support that young person needs, before they need it.

And moving on, we offer a range of dates and times for school-home parental consultations, rather than the one evening in the school diary and 'tough luck' if you can't come in to school in that date.

But community is also so much more than that too. The school needs to remember the people who live in the streets and closes around the physical building. These homes will, as likely as not, be homes to people who don't have children of secondary school age (as part of my learning journey, I now know that, on average, one house in seven across the country has children of secondary school age!). A school has a duty to be their for these people too. A school should be a beating heart to a community, living and breathing, providing something for everyone.

In three weeks time, the annual Sandymoor Summer Fair is being held on the green just over the street from our current temporary buildings. We are all going to be there, with all our staff, current and future, and the school will be open and actively being part of the celebration of community that the Summer Fair is. We are inviting the families of all our students, current and future, to join us in celebrating the community that is Sandymoor at this event; the strongest communities are those that look outwards and invite people in.

But looking ahead, we have been passionate about ensuring that the design for the new building has community access and use built into the very heart of the plans. We have designed a dedicated community entrance to the school, with a community office and corridor, allowing for evening and weekend access to parts of the building that will be of benefit to the community. And these facilities? A full, Sport England standard sports hall, with scope for our badminton courts / indoor football / basketball / trampolining ... ... Etc. A separate dance studio, with a sprung wooden floor and double height ceiling (with picture windows looking East over Keckwick Brook). Music rooms, including recording studio, to extend our involvement with providing music lessons to the local area. And that's not mentioning the conference / meeting room facilities we have built into the school, offering local businesses the potential to use state of the art IT facilities and conference spaces to support their growth, a video-conferencing room providing the ability for international communication from the comfort of Runcorn, and flexible spaces waiting for the community to see the potential of!

Schools have a moral duty to be active participants in the community they are part of, to be cement building community and making it stronger, and looking always outwards, not being insular (no 'nimbys' welcome), looking to see the benefits of working together for the benefit of all.

That is certainly what I want Sandymoor School to be know as.


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