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Three years later, Sackville Schools 2020 continues to advocate for community-based education system

Designer/architect Greg Hasiuk speaks to those in attendance at a November 2017 community visioning session, which was hosted by the Sackville Schools 2020 committee.
Designer/architect Greg Hasiuk speaks to those in attendance at a November 2017 community visioning session, which was hosted by the Sackville Schools 2020 committee. - Katie Tower

Support has continued to grow for innovative vision for education in Sackville

SACKVILLE, N.B. – They’ve done all the legwork and now they hope it will soon be time for action.

Sackville Schools 2020, a group of community members from various backgrounds and walks of life, came together three years ago to start brainstorming ways in which schooling in Sackville can become a whole lot better. Now with plenty of research and support behind them, they are pleased with how far the movement has come since 2015 and are hopeful they will soon be able to bring to life a more innovative vision for education in Sackville.

The group has come a long way in three years – Sackville 2020 has formed connections and partnerships with advocates, educators and politicians from across the province, Canada and around the world. They have gained wide support for the community-integrated education vision they have developed, one which is anticipated to enhance and modernize the local schools as well as the teaching that occurs within.

Sackville Schools 2020 partnering with Harvard University education lab

“We really feel we’ve been able to show people what’s possible for education,” says Debbie Champagne, a Sackville Schools 2020 committee member.

The Sackville Schools 2020 vision is one which includes more outdoor learning spaces, community connections, hands-on learning, inclusive education, bright and open areas, more innovative teaching approaches and so much more. It’s a concept that would help bring more 21st-century approaches to the local education system and to ensure our children are being provided with more experiential and community-based learning opportunities.

Andrew Wilson, chair of the Sackville Schools 2020, says the idea is to make the entire Sackville community “a campus of learning,” to bring together all of the local resources and partners to develop an integrated education model – such as Mount Allison University, the town of Sackville, the Tantramar Seniors’ College, the Tantramar Family Resource Centre, local businesses, parents, teachers and students.

“When we ask people to dream, it’s not about building a billion-dollar school,” says Wilson. “It’s about providing our students with experiential deep learning opportunities, ones that they can then apply in the real world.”

He says similar concepts are being used and developed all around the world so there are “many wonderful models to draw from.”

“This is not ‘pie-in-the-sky stuff, it’s happening in many other places.”

“The more we started to explore the idea, the more we realized we don’t have to reinvent the wheel, we just to have consolidate what’s happening and make it work in a more mainstream way."

– Andrew Wilson, chair of the Sackville Schools 2020

Agnes Koller, also a committee member, says she looks forward to an education system where “we can break down the silos,” and instead work more collaboratively and share resources to make it a more well-rounded, holistic approach to education.

“Sackville has so much to offer . . . .it just makes more sense,” she says.

Brian Neilson says with more partnerships comes more community ownership and public engagement in local education.

“Depending on what all could be integrated . . . it would be great to put more of the public back into public education,” he says.

Fellow Sackville Schools 2020 member Michael Fox agrees, saying the meaningful experiences students are gaining the most benefits from seem to be the ones outside of the school curriculum, the partnerships that bring real-world learning to students and engage them in education.

Wilson says there has always been a high degree of confidence in Sackville being able to move Sackville School 2020’s vision forward, mainly because of all the community-based learning and innovative teaching that has already been unofficially happening here in the area for several years now – such as wetlands education, outdoor learning spaces, visits to Mount Allison labs and art galleries, beautification efforts at the schools, just to name a few.

“The more we started to explore the idea, the more we realized we don’t have to reinvent the wheel, we just to have consolidate what’s happening and make it work in a more mainstream way,” he says.

Wilson explains that Sackville Schools 2020 was established back in 2015, during a time when Sackville residents, concerned about the condition of schools in our town, began realizing the importance of being proactive in the face of inevitable change. With talk about combining Marshview students into Tantramar Regional High School, since it was clear the Marshview building was well past its prime, Sackville 2020 was born out of the recognition that the community needed to be involved in decisions related to local education.

Champagne says although initially she got involved on the Sackville 2020 committee because she “didn’t want to see the Marshview kids stuffed into the basement of TRHS,” she says it soon became clear there would be a greater picture emerge from the first meetings.

“From there, it changed into ‘okay we’re now going to go after a new school or schools . . . and when we’re doing that, why would we do it the old method when there are more new and exciting ways of learning?’ And they’re not even that new, they’re just new to here.”

Three years later, the committee continues to be excited about the vision that has been building from those initial meetings.

A lot has happened since then as the Sackville Schools 2020 group has opened the eyes of many municipal and provincial officials to not only the poor condition of the local elementary, middle and high schools, but also to the idea that Sackville is the perfect community in which to set up this innovative community-based education model.

The group has gained support from the Anglophone East School District Superintendant, New Brunswick’s Premier, Minister of Education, assistant Deputy Minister of Education, the Memramcook-Tantramar MLA, the MP for Beausejour, the chair of the District Education Council, the Sackville mayor, Mount Allison University officials, teachers and administrators.

“We’ve been putting our cause in front of the people making the decisions,” says Wilson.

He says these efforts over the past three years have brought about a cultural shift that needed to happen to put the group in a better position to move forward.

“It was crucial work that needed to unfold,” says Wilson.

Sackville Schools 2020 has also engaged with structural engineers and international architectural design firms on how to build a facility or facilities that would pull together this new vision for education.

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