We often hear kids are resilient.
They lose a friend who moves away, they make another. No room in minor hockey, they can play ringette or basketball, or go skiing or snowboarding. They’ll be good.
So when a school closes, or is faced with closure, like Armstrong Elementary School is facing, there is, rightly so, panic, anxiety and worry, mostly among the parents. A school is a huge part of any community, but particularly in small rural centres.
Kids will be faced with being uprooted from likely the only school they’ve ever known, with teachers they adore and BFFs. Busing schedules might be changed.
But you know what? The kids will be fine.
Hear me out.
The North Okanagan Shuswap School District recently voted to consider amalgamating Armstrong’s four schools into two kindergarten to Grade 7 schools (Highland Park Elementary, and Len Wood Middle School would revert to an elementary school), and one Grade 8 to 12 secondary school (Pleasant Valley Secondary).
This leaves AES the odd school out and facing possible closure at the end of the school year.
The reason for the decision is a familiar one for school boards: budgets. There isn’t a lot of money from the provincial government for education anymore. The North Okanagan-Shuswap district is facing a shortfall of $1.3 million.
Trustees must look at closures as an option. It doesn’t mean they have to go through with it. It means they do the best they can at trying to keep things operating with minimal impact to the students, teachers, support staff, clerical staff and maintenance workers.
Closing Armstrong Elementary would save the district $626,000. If the school district doesn’t close a school, the trustees have to look elsewhere to balance their budget. That means cutting programs.
Music programs could be gone. The curtain could come down on drama programs. Recreational opportunities lost. Programs for special needs students out the window. Education assistants cut from the classrooms.
Do we want that?
In Armstrong’s case, geography is important to remember. The four schools are close together. If AES closes, kids will either go up Pleasant Valley Road to Len Wood or PVSS, or across the IPE grounds to Highland Park Elementary.
I worked for nearly seven years at the Salmon Arm Observer. One of my beats there was the school beat. So I got to know Salmon Arm trustees Bobbi Johnson and Michel Saab, Armstrong’s Bob Fowler and Enderby’s Chris Coers.
In my time there, I watched the same school district close two elementary schools in Salmon Arm and one in Malakwa, and I saw them tear down a historic junior high school in Salmon Arm, one with as many memories and history to Salmon Armenians as AES has to Armstrongians.
It meant change for hundreds of kids. You know what? It wasn’t easy but the vast majority went about their education.
The last thing trustees ever want to do is close a school. I guarantee you that. They don’t become a trustee to close schools. They do it because they care about education, they care about kids and they care about their communities. But, sometimes, they have to make decisions that are tough and are going to be difficult for a lot of people. I wonder how many sleepless nights the trustees have.
I don’t want to see AES closed. But if that occurs, I don’t, for a second, believe the city will let anything happen to the brick school. It’s a vibrant part of the community with a ton of history. I believe if AES is to close, the building will still be a huge part of everyday life in Armstrong. Just not as a school.
The kids will adapt to their new surroundings, hang out with old friends and make new ones. They are, after all, resilient.