Business and community lift school's spirits

Jon Buscall

CANADA

When Sandra Dean was appointed principal of an inner-city Canadian school with a terrible academic record and a stack of disciplinary problems, she did not jump for joy. "I admit my heart sank a little," she said.

But in four years Dean turned things around at South Simcoe school in Oshawa, Ontario, by working with business and community leaders. Her initiative earned the school a national award for excellence in business and education partnerships and has become a nationally-approved school strategy.

"When our kids were picked up in the shopping mall for causing trouble," said Ms Dean,"we asked local businesses for their help. We weren't looking for money. We wanted their time."

Dean believes on focussing on more than bullying when tackling anti-social behaviour in schools. "You have to approach things holistically. Look at ways to instil pride in the kids, help their academic development as well as promote healthy living and a strong community spirit. Part of this means involving the community in the everyday life of the school."

Local business people were enlisted to arrange fetes. K-mart workers volunteered to tend the school garden. One local department store manager offered up his own office so a disruptive student, suffering the affects of abuse, could be taught three times a week. St John's Ambulance taught a babysitting course to the students while other business people came in and read to the children.

"Kodak gave the kids free disposable cameras, then blew the pictures up to poster size and displayed them across the town," said Dean. "It meant a lot to the kids to see their work hanging up in stores around the town. They felt like they were an important part of the community."

Although South Simcoe school closed in 1998, the story of Ms Dean's inspirational community programme is charted in her book, Hearts Minds: a public school miracle (Viking Books).

It's about recognising that a school's problems are the community's problems too, she says.

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Jon Buscall

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