Enduring Community Spirit: the SOS Story

Despite the closure of their school, the community of River John remains positive, creative and determined to go forth.  

After working for two years to develop an educationally compelling Hub school model the community hoped to pilot—a plan praised and supported by professionals within the province and beyond—there was a tie vote by elected school board to reconsider the school’s closure. One board member was missing. A tie meant defeat.

Members of the River John Support our School secured ameeting with Premier MacNeil and Minister of Education on July 23rd. They were referred back to the Chignecto Central Regional School Board and encouraged to lobby for an emergency meeting which was rejected by the Board.  

The SOS has evolved into a larger group : River Johnners Unite for Rural Communities. As taxpayers, the community believes they should have access to basic services. As engaged Nova Scotians, this community stepped up for their children and community in good faith. Community members volunteered, worked, created, innovated with a plan that, given the right support, would benefit all children and families along the North Shore of Nova Scotia. 

The community asked for a new way forward to support delivery of education to seventy children in a rural community. They garnered support and resources for a sustainable and resilient way forward. They worked and asked for help now and received an answer of never. They broke the status quo. Now, they stand with and for rural communities across the province who are faced with the erosion of social justice and lack of provincial government support for the flourishing of rural communities and local initiatives. 

The community of River John continues to hope for a child-centred solution so their youngest can be educated within community and are currently exploring all options. The parents have had to move on and many still hope for a small school in the future -at least for the youngest-- for those coming up. Whether that is in the public education system or creation of alternative remains to be seen.  At first, as a result of school closure, there was no longer a place in River John for the preschool or a recreation centre for seniors or the youth in their community. BUT! The community rallied. Right now,  ( early 2016)  we have preschool up and running, the recreation centre hopping with programs from yoga to mixed soccer,  a Hub Cafe on Saturday mornings on flea market days and some exciting plans for spring and summer.        

This never was and is still not only about River John and one "typical" small school closure. This was a historic opportunity to create a true Hub model from grassroots upwards to create a resilient community.   We are still working towards this end. Call it River John H.U.B. plan  2.0! Below was original vision and much remains the same, although we are tweaking and modifying. A member of our community will be working the Coady Institute in April.  The municipality has kindly given us the building until August and so, onwards  for positive outcome.        

Designers' rendering of the finished hub courtesy Harvey Architecture Ltd. 

Designers' rendering of the finished hub courtesy Harvey Architecture Ltd. 

Gathering at the Hub

We'll be excited to welcome local organizations to use the space to establish more programs, resources and special events that promote not only education, but health and wellness and unity within our community. We're already in action! The Hub is the community gathering point for everything from blood collection to fitness classes, continuing education, pancake breakfasts, flea markets, Christmas fairs, and writers' festivals. We've launched a successful winter workshop series. We've had an early childhood centre in our school for ten years!  Stay tuned for news on our Wide Awake Art Gallery and  Cafe, our Community Hub Garden and plans for an Outdoor Community Recreation Hub and Nature Park.  A Forest School ? Environmental education and fresh air is priority-- instead of additional hours in transit and more bus fumes for our students. A nature trail and bird habitat? A walking labyrinth, a mini-golf course? We are only limited by our imagination!

Welcome Aboard The Scholar Ship

The North Shore “Scholar Ship” Maker Space will be a place-based, experiential learning hub housed within the school's existing library space, making the most of the building's shop, kitchen and outdoor area. Here, we'll make and discover by doing. Our shipbuilding theme will honour the North Shore’s vibrant shipbuilding past and our agricultural, fisheries and forestry present, while embracing a future of technology and innovation. All while matching curriculum outcomes!

Designers' rendering of the finished hub

Designers' rendering of the finished hub

Envisioning the Space

Imagine an artist and shipwright, using a ship’s design, creating the feeling of a ship. A virtual mast overhead-displaying world flags. A night sky with constellations on the ceiling. Envision underneath this dome, interactive learning stations located in various parts of that ship –the helm, the galley, the crow’s nest, the captain’s quarters...

Imagine the range of subjects and skills a maker space like this could enhance, using basic machines like wheels and pulleys as well 21st century technology like 3D printers and green screens. Imagine hands-on Activities designed to foster understanding and exploration in everything from Gaelic, Mi’kmaw, and French to local economics, entrepreneurship, and creating impact with social justice and media literacy. Imagine tapping into the creativity of students and teachers, meeting educational outcomes while creating a centre for all students of CCRSB and Nova Scotia. Imagine an exciting and welcoming place for families and children on the North Shore after school hours and during vacations. With marketing and tourism backing and partnerships, we see the potential for revenue, growth, and sustainability as The North Shore Scholar Ship Makerspace Community becomes an educational and recreational tourist destination.

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As we initiate talks with community organizations such as Read by the Sea (a national literary festival), the River John Pioneer, (our community newspaper) Creative Pictou County,  Pictou County 2020, Nova Scotia Community College, Community Links, Caldera Distillery,  the members of River John Action Society are excited about our H.U.B. plans. We know there is much work ahead, but there's also so much to gain. We invite members of the larger community, businesses, organizations, our neighbours and friends to become co-creators as we press forward.