Today was a sad day at my small, rural community school. We were brought together to mourn the tragic and premature passing of a parent who was very involved in the lives of her children, both the elementary and secondary community schools and the community at large. Such a crowd had gathered for the funeral mass that the priest commented in his four years serving the community, he had never seen so many people in one of his churches. Families. Friends. Parents. Teachers. Students. They all squeezed into the mass to show their respect for a wonderful wife, mother, daughter, sister, friend and colleague. Both community schools (elementary and secondary) ran on a shoe string staff to allow for all to attend.
Walking up to the church, my husband (also a teacher at our community school) and I chatted with past and current parents and students. Despite the sad circumstances, we enjoyed the time to catch up and say hello. The funeral mass was a flood of familiar faces: teachers, current and past students and parents; even staff who once worked at our school but had moved on to other positions.
As we participated in the mass, I couldn’t help but look around with a pseudo-parental pride at our past and current students who were present. Many had come on their own to support their friends and teammates who had lost their mother, others were with their parents; they were dressed respectfully (no hats to be seen), and they followed the rituals of the Catholic mass despite some of their inexperience with it. Before and after the funeral they respectfully chatted with teachers, other students, community members and family. No phones, horseplay or raised voices.
Most touching of all was the eulogy delivered by the oldest son in the family, who many of us community teachers (elementary and secondary) had taught – probably more than once due to our small staff at the secondary level. I think that I can speak for all the teachers in the room when I say that we were beaming with pride and appreciation of how one of our very recent graduates had grown into such a confident, well spoken young man. He commanded the congregation with a touching, funny and deeply personal eulogy that had everyone laughing and crying – sometimes simultaneously. His confidence, eye contact, body language, voice volume and pace were impeccable. If this were an English assignment, his grades would have been off the charts. But it wasn’t. It was real life; this was his mother’s funeral. Despite the sadness of the situation, I can assure you that every teacher in the audience who had taught him as a boy or young man felt the tiniest bit of smugness at having a part in teaching him to become the man who stood before us today.
On our quiet car ride back to school I commented to my husband how special being part of a small community was, even if we didn’t technically live there. Despite our actual address, due to teaching in the community for over a decade we had developed deep ties to it’s members. Really, we were part of the extended family that trusted us to educated their kids.
When people say that a community school is like a big family, it’s not a cliche; it’s reality. Only in a small school setting can deep, multigenerational relationships develop and thrive. Everyone who is part of the school community becomes an extended family who supports each other through the good times and bad.
Students recognize these relationships as well, and many travel from outside the area to experience being part of this type of school community. When our school was nearly closed last year due to government cutbacks, the importance of community and relationships was the loudest argument from our student body to keep our building open.
The relationships and support of small, community schools can’t be measured like graduation rates, EQAO scores or tax base supports, but they matter just as much to student success and well being. These connections and support are invaluable, especially when life throws a curve ball. I don’t know what it will take for governments and school boards to wake up to this reality, but I do know that schools like ours will continue to be an example of how a small, community school can thrive and create an atmosphere of family that no urban school can replicate.
This blog is dedicated to the memory of Mrs. Anne Therese Lagadin. Thank you for bringing our school community together. We are watching over your boys; rest in peace.