If a School is Isolated from the World,
then Bring the World to the School
Despite being a small rural school in a somewhat isolated, Northern Ontario community approximately one hour west of Sudbury, St. Mary Catholic School in Massey strives to stay connected to the world. Dedicated efforts, the use of available technology and strategic planning of the staff and its School Council have made the world a smaller place to navigate, with emphasis on graduating global-minded citizens responsible for the care of this earth given to us by our creator.
It is because of the rural location of the school, that a leading priority of the School Council and staff is to bring as many presenters to the school as is economically viable. The philosophy is: “If we can’t get the students out to see the world, then let’s bring the world to our students.” With this in mind, the group searches the web for a variety of acts and presentations that would be willing to travel to our Northern Ontario Community. Over the past 2 years we have been fortunate enough to host such acts as Magician Marc Tardiff from Quebec, Roseneath Theatre of Toronto, and Canadian Author Sigmund Brouwer of Alberta. It is a costly philosophy, but the students are given wonderful experiences that many may not typically see in their lifetime, with the hope that they may be empowered to do things outside the norm of small, rural-town goals and behaviours.
“When people visit from outside our small community, they tend to be more animated, at least in the eyes of our students. In terms of relationships / connections, students in small rural communities do not benefit from a multitude of perspectives or cultural differences, as connections are limited. This is because many of our Northern Ontario communities are predominantly Euro-centric with a strong First Nations presence. Therefore, any other perspective is of great interest to the students and staff. Because students are highly engaged in the presentations, they benefit a great deal from them.”
… Chris Vuorensyrja – Principal, St. Mary School
The staff of the school also understands the power of establishing connections and links to pedagogical initiatives outside of the school and community, not only for their own benefit, but ultimately for the betterment of the students that they serve. With an awareness of the limitations for professional development in small, northern communities, the school relies on such capabilities as videoconferencing with others in the board community who are housed at the Board Office, over two hours’ drive from the school itself. The principal of the school sits on numerous Board committees, and signs up for a number of provincial initiatives at the regional and provincial levels to establish connections, and to bring the latest trends and opportunities back to the school. Teachers and support staff also contribute greatly to the academic and cultural growth of the school, independently signing up for learning initiatives from the Board, OECTA, and the province, or monitoring educational content on a variety of websites, and actively working together to ensure success.
To further encourage the development of a global sense of mission in our students, the St. Mary community is continuously involved in a number of social justice initiatives at the local and global levels. Over the course of the school year, students and staff collectively contribute to such organizations as the local food bank, Helping Hands / Caring Hearts, the Holy Childhood Association, the Terry Fox Foundation, the Heart and Stroke Foundation and the Royal Canadian Legion Poppy Fund. They also continue to support a child and his community in a Somali Village, through the Chalice organization. Students and their families rise to the obligation, despite the hardships that many themselves face in their daily lives. Having these connections to other parts of the globe, and instilling a sense of obligation to assist those in need wherever they are, has developed a greater empathy for all, which reflects back into the culture of the school itself.
It is not the network or the World Wide Web that receives credit for opening St. Mary School to the world, rather it is the dedicated staff that chases opportunities, and establishes connections through the tools supplied. If the students receive just a “taste” of what is available to them, then we have piqued their curiosity just enough to send them actively seeking the exciting and rewarding opportunities that life has to offer.