I want to take a moment to thank the board and everyone involved in this process. I realize how difficult these choices are and we all want the best for our children. I’m also a chartered accountant, so I definitely understand the pressure of budgets and timetables and deadlines. But we have to remember that it’s not all about the numbers.
Our family moved to this area over 10 years ago for quality of life. We wanted to spend time with our kids, not spend it paying off a million-dollar mortgage in Toronto.
We have two daughters, one finishing grade 6 and the other set to graduate grade 8. We’ve just been through the process of deciding which high school she should attend. Also, we are out of area as we are on the west side of highway 6, instead of the east side.
For the most part, I’ve been happy with their elementary school. I understand how parents are reluctant to send their young kids to high school too early. A few years ago, I probably would’ve had the same response. Now I have a different viewpoint.
I was at the end of the baby-boom period and attended a full middle school. For us, this was a warm-up to high school. We had lockers and moved from class to class. We had music, theatre, shops and exams.
But now I worry that my eldest daughter is woefully unprepared for highschool. In the last 2 years she’s brought homework home 3 times. She has not studied for tests or exams. Yet she maintains a B+ average. While they do offer sports at her school, there is little opportunity for other extra-curricular. She has tried out for the sports teams, but this isn’t her forte.
She’s toured Chesley, West Hill and we made our final decision to attend OSCVI. Not only were we enamoured with the teachers and the programs offered, but the facilities were beyond compare. My daughter is interested in arts and technology, theatre and music. I was thrilled with the large auditorium area, the art studios and the music rooms. I also noted the dance program as this would be of interest to my younger daughter, as well as arts, theatre and science.
One of the reasons we didn’t choose Chesley, our home school, because it no longer has a drama program. Sadly, arts programming is always the first to go.
So my counterpoint is this: While I understand parents’ nervousness in sending young kids into the high school environment, I also worry that we are holding them back. By “protecting” our kids now do we do so at the cost of future opportunities? Personally, I believe my daughter would have benefited greatly from the options that could’ve been provided in a high school environment.
With a single high-school scenario we lose such a beautiful artistic space. There may be more classrooms at West Hill, but this kind of environment is special. A jewel to have in our rural community.
Before writing, I took the time to read through a good 85% of the submissions, plus the overview reports. From Tim Eaton’s letter: “the community raised a substantial amount of money to ensure a new auditorium for the Georgian Bay Symphony. In so doing the community also gifted OSCVI with a facility for concerts, drama, dance and musical theatre.” In another letter he goes on to say: “There is no auditorium as excellent as this closer than London or Kitchener or Barrie.”
This is a gift we received and one we’ll never get back. We can’t ask the community to raise the funds again and we won’t be getting the money from the board of education even if a new school is built to replace West Hill.
The counter argument is that the auditorium isn’t going anywhere, its still within the community. But you can’t compare to having it available on a daily basis, along with the dance facilities.
As we all know, the teenage years can be a challenge for the best of kids trying to make their way to adulthood. Having an outlet to express themselves, whether through art or sport, is an invaluable asset; one we can’t put a price on. These are also community building activities, bringing the kids together within the school and outside into the wider community.
A bored and disengaged child is far more likely to suffer mental health issues, or to find inappropriate ways to keep themselves busy. If we put all these kids in one school, a school that would be over-capacity, we lose our art facilities, and fewer kids will make the team, meaning lots of kids will have idle time.
My husband drives a school bus to Owen Sound and says he regularly sees kids bringing their guitars to school. A guitar in a young man or woman’s hands can keep them busy for hours, plus learning the skills of commitment, dedication and performance. What happens when that opportunity is taken away; what do they fill their time with? And who amongst us hasn’t heard how music develops the brain.
And these aren’t all “artsy” ideas. In 2009 a report was produced on the future of the Ontario economy: They called it the creative economy and said it would be the fastest growing area for jobs. Most of those jobs are clustered around cities, but rural areas have a part to play as well.
Owen Sound and the surrounding counties have a rich and vibrant arts scene. More and more artists move to the area to enjoy the beauty of nature and for a more affordable way of life. A facility such as OSCVI would encourage growth in this area. Having just discovered OSCVI myself, I believe the city and school should do more to market this advantage.
And I know the arts go on quite successfully at St. Mary’s and West Hill without these facilities. And of course, West Hill has facilities that OSCVI doesn’t, which is why it shouldn’t close either.
But why turn our backs on the facilities we do have? Why not offer the best to everyone?
My other concern is the actual facility of West Hill especially how it relates to transportation. As a business person, my first reaction when something is “over-capacity”, is that the infrastructure will be stressed and opportunities will be lost. And when I look at West Hill, a school in need of repairs, I am uncomfortable that this school will be pushed to its limits.
West Hill is in a residential area with little to no room for manoeuvre, literally. Increasing traffic to this area would be a major drawback. Congestion would be worse as well as overall transportation issues going from the east side of Owen Sound to the West Side.
Also, other out-of-area friends who were considering West Hill for their children have told me they won’t be sending them if this amalgamation goes through.
Everything we create starts with a vision. The Board’s vision is “Preparing our students today for the world of tomorrow.”
The world of tomorrow involves the “creative economy”. By closing OSCVI to high school students, we narrow that vision. By adopting a one high school approach, in an out-dated building, we narrow that vision further. The plan for declining enrollment becomes a reality.
Let’s not let the fear of change limit our vision for the future, for our children and for Owen Sound. Let’s raise the bar, not lower it. Many of our young children ride the buses with high school kids already. Many of our younger children are held back in an elementary environment.
I encourage the Board and others to re-consider the 7-12 model as providing more opportunities for everyone and maintaining a wonderful space for kids interested in the arts, theatre and music. As well as providing more opportunities for sports.
This model has met with success in other areas where it’s been implemented. (for references, see Ian Heft’s letter of March 7.) It would be a great loss to Owen Sound to not be able to offer this type of facility to high-school children and would even discourage families from moving to this area.
A few months ago, we were excited at the new opportunities available at OSCVI. The building is a beautiful space to be in and the creative spaces are a centerpiece of the community. To watch the door close on this opportunity fills me with regret and makes me wonder if we limited our children’s opportunity by moving to a rural area.