The School with A Soul

The sun spills though my window, with stretching and creaking bones, I reluctantly rise. Crazy butterflies flitting in my tummy, traveling from room to room; my sing-song begins. ‘Wakey…wakey…eggs and bakey, it’s rise and shine time!’ Here’s hoping they don’t hear the tremors in my voice.

Get it TOGETHER!’ I mumble to myself  ‘You’re the MOM, for crying out freaking loud!’

Doesn’t matter though does it? It’s the first day in a new school, new community…a whole new life. Yeah, I’m stressed about how the kids will fit in…will they make new friends…will people think they’re weird, I mean TOO weird…

Straight up though, I’ve got other worries too.

After years of teaching in a public school, volunteering with my own kids classes, a homeschooling hiatus, back in and helping out at a private school. Let’s face it, I’m no stranger to the educational scene. I love schools, love the way they have a beat…a soul.

You feel it the minute you walk in, that indescribable pull, the feeling of …”yeah, we fit here”. I put a lot of trust in my gut feelings, which is great because they are almost always right. Almost.

First time strolling into Rutherford Elementary, there were a serious lack of warm fuzzies. Heading towards the barely distinguishable front office, I glanced down to my left at the dry, dead plants begging for attention near the front entrance. Nice. The office didn’t appear much better off, mismatched furniture and piles of boxes everywhere. I glanced up at the wall behind the receptionist at a banner, appearing as though it was just hanging on…”Rutherford ~ Open and Thriving!” Super.

WHAT THE…? So the only thing this school had to offer our family was that it was open??? Yikes. Although the receptionist was genuine and very helpful, I walked away with a sinking feeling…we had dragged our family sixteen hours away from the town of their birth, all of their friends, everything they knew…for OPEN? Ugghhh.

“Come on Mon-stars! We gotta go, you don’t want to be late for your first day”…even if I’m dragging you to a school from the dark ages…sigh…

Couldn’t be a more beautiful day for the opening of a shiny, new school year. Hauling colourful backpacks, sharp pencils, squeaky clean sneakers and all, my tribe and I embark on the short walk towards their new adventure. I’m distracted by the dog wrapping herself around my daughter’s legs, and having to ask my son to catch up as he examines the remains of a frog in the ditch, but when I actually glance up, I’m pleased to see a steady trickle of other eager, sparkly school kids walking on the same migratory path.

Streaming in from every direction, there are people gathering like a giant wagon wheel. The geographical center of this magical pull is Rutherford’s back courtyard. Parents pushing strollers, Nana’s patiently dragging toddlers, trying to keep up, the odd teen giving a piggy back to a reluctant younger sibling. The crowd’s energy builds as friends greet each other with hugs and hellos, sharing stories of summer escapades, bits of familiar gossip, questions of who is in who’s class. All the while complimenting new outfits, a fresh haircut, the addition of glasses or braces. Everyone sharing their stories and reconnecting .

On the outside edge of the crowd, I’m feeling desperately awkward, manically texting a friend back home. The kids have long abandoned me to go play, little Judases, on the incredible playground, missed on my first visit. Nestled in the shadows of grandfather cedar trees, they escape the hot sun, already baking us as we stand around waiting to be allowed into the gym.

Although it felt like forever, it was probably only a few minutes before a few friendly souls invited me into their group. They got the scoop on who we were, where we were from and…boom! That was it. I was in. These people were really friendly. Actually, they were way too nice…what the heck?! I thought we’d moved to a city! What happened to the chilly anonymity?

The more we chatted and shared, the clearer it became…we hadn’t just joined a new school…we’d been welcomed into a new community. A large family, made up of smaller families, who live, work and play in the area surrounding our school. Parents filled me in on the history of having to fight for this school only a few short years before. Ahhh I get it…lightbulb flash! Explaining the passion behind the misunderstood banner in the office. They were so proud of Rutherford, because they had had to fight for the right to keep their school open. The very act of having to prove to a group of trustees how valuable the school was, only solidified how strongly they felt about it.

By the time we were ushered into the gym for the assembly, I’d already been asked to help with the upcoming family movie night and bake a cake for the school Halloween party, and… Oh…‘we need somebody else on the Christmas basket raffle’ and ‘yeah…our playground equipment is great, but the swings are kaput…do you want to help with the PAC?’ These people didn’t fool around! Every parent I met, moms, dads and grandparents, had a vested interest in their children’s education, and they were ACTING on it!

I quickly got caught up in the shared emotion of it all, when they welcomed the “new” grade sevens back, sang the school song, and listened to kids cheering loudly as teachers were being introduced. It was just an hour and a half, but that morning felt like a lifetime.

Filing pensively out of the assembly, I meandered through the halls with strikingly different optics. Enjoying the view of a bright inner courtyard. Yes, courtyard, full of plants and sunshine! Bulletin boards down each hallway, bursting with welcoming displays and photographs sharing the proud history of the school. Once back in the office, I noticed the banner, although still kinda crooked, was a great deal more impressive, now that I understood. Lastly, as we made our way outside…those dried up plants? Replaced with fall blooming flowers, the garden fresh and tended to by parent volunteers with obvious love and care.

What makes a school great? More importantly, what makes it valuable? Is it a new facility? Is it top of the line advancements in technology?

Not. Even. Close. The best schools, the ones that build our children up, teach them how to be incredible leaders and innovators, are the one’s that enable a community to support one another through everything life throws at us.

  • It is a familiar place. Where people know each other, know the kids. Friends can help pick up when needed. Teachers know what is happening in ‘real’ life. Families have attended for generations. Shared stories and history. Small enough that people care and compassion is important.
  • It is a celebratory place. Parties, games, gatherings for everyone in the family. Where friends get to share the fun stuff;  cake walks, Christmas concerts, movie nights. Where people gather and make time to enjoy their families. There is always something to look forward to.
  • It is a safe place. Close to home, close to people who know. When things aren’t perfect at home, it is a place where students and families are accepted and understood. It is a place where people come together to mourn, to support and to be supported.
  • It is a community. It has its own heartbeat, its own value and its own culture.

Our school, like many small community schools, is all of these things and so much more. Maybe the trustees haven’t been able to see our community through the right optics. Like me, on my first days. They see the older building, the skewed banner, the stuff that doesn’t matter. They see numbers that don’t add up, statistics that are biased and graphs that don’t paint a clear picture.

It is up to us to share with the school district what is truly important and more challenging to quantify; the heart, the soul and the intrinsic value of the hub of our amazing community.

Rutherford…it is thriving, let’s keep it open ♥

The impersonal hand of government can never replace the helping hand of a neighbor.

~Hubert H. Humphrey

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Categories: Ramblings


Mom of six, social media translator at, travel junkie, wanna-be-chef and lover of all things clever and beautiful ...

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2 Comments on “The School with A Soul”

  1. Eva Gillis
    September 21, 2015 at 9:27 am #

    Not just a ‘good read’ – the message is clear and touches, moves and inspires me – thank you for sharing

    • September 21, 2015 at 3:45 pm #

      Thanks Eva, here’s hoping we are able to convince the board of the value.

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steps to the light

that perfect hand...

In Ocean's 11, Danny said that "the house always wins. If you play long enough, never change the stakes, then the house takes you. Unless, when that perfect hand comes along, you bet big... and then, you take the house." Here's the hand I've been dealt, sometimes it's risky and sometimes it's safe, but all the time... it's perfect. It's mine.

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