By Joshua Estabrooks
A small group of dedicated community members spent a good chunk of the day on Sunday discussing the future of the Dunster Fine Arts School. The school has been operating under the volunteer power of local parents and community members for the 2011 school year, but discussions have begun with School District 57 to determine what model will be used moving forward.
The day was facilitated by Valemount’s Economic Development Officer, Silvio Gislimberti, as well as resident Nancy Taylor, and allowed for some unique discussions on where the group is currently and where they would like to go as they develop a proposal for their next meeting with the School District.
A number of issues were discussed throughout the day, including transportation challenges and how to attract more students for the upcoming school year. At the base of it all was the unifying sentiment that the community is committed to providing a rural education alternative that fosters lifelong learning, as well as ensuring that any revenue generated by operating the school stays within the community. “The Dunster Fine Arts School Society is committed to offering an educational alternative to all the families in the Robson Valley,” reads the opening line of their proposal to the district. “The school curriculum will focus on both the arts and ecology. We also wish to provide a learning environment that fosters a sense of belonging in and ownership of the community at large. This includes participation from community members of all ages and backgrounds.”
The group creative two tentative proposals, the first of which would follow the model established in Wells, which is operated as a partnership between the community and the school district. The district, under the Wells model, would provide a full time teacher, educational materials and transportation to and from the school. The society would then operate and maintain the school building and grounds.
The second proposal would be a pilot project of sorts, based on the use of Internet and computer technology to facilitate self directed learning under the supervision of a qualified teacher. The intent of this model would be to allow a broad curriculum focusing on the individual needs of students in a rural context. The logistics of the proposal would be similar to the Wells model, except the society facilitate contracts with various community members who would come in and teach the students from their area of expertise, examples of which would be drama, visual arts, music etc.
Discussions also turned to what other options could take place in the building, some of which would include a community learning centre, summer art camps and a site for distance learning for adults. The group also determined that there is a willingness to expand the scope of the school to include both elementary and high school, and committed to saying in touch with other rural communities going through similar situations in other parts of the province.
The next meeting will take place on April 17 from 10:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. at which time they will discuss the results of their next meeting with the school district taking place in March.