Pain amid the practicalities

27 Nov, 2000 03:00 PM

FOR small communities with even smaller schools, the decision to close doors and relocate students to bigger centres can be a heartbreaking decision. While the classrooms may be small, averaging only 10 students and a teacher, that doesn't mean the sense of nostalgia or sentiment is any less important or emotional. The effects can be long lasting and far reaching, tugging at community spirit and damaging already ghost-like economies. For, in these towns, the school is the community, with all activities centred on what is happening in the old school building, which is the only chance for a get together. These small groups will soon integrated into wider communities, where it is hoped the opportunities will be plentiful. That is the reason schools and parents must put tradition aside and think about what's best for their students and children, who are always going to get more opportunities at bigger schools with more students and extra facilities. At the end of this school year, Burracoppin Primary School, Gabbin Primary School and Ejanding Primary School in the state's Wheatbelt will close their doors after educating the minds of the young for nearly a century. The decisions to close at all three schools was made through the Local Area Education planning process, and was the result of extensive community consultation processes in all regions, before parents made the final decision to recommend the schools be closed. Burracoppin Primary School is one step ahead, with the students already attending Merredin schools after a successful transition program last term. The oldest of all the schools closing, Burracoppin first opened its door, or more accurately tent flaps, in 1911 to 20 students. But, while numbers peaked at about 70 in the mid 1950s, they dropped to only eight this year. With only himself and two part-time teachers, Burracoppin principal Geoff Simmons said, although it was a hard decision to make, the parents were in full support of the closure. According to Mr Simmons, the students will now travel around 25km each way to get to and from school, but it is the same bus route as they are already taking and so doesn't pose too many adjustment problems. The small group of students left at 74-year-old Ejanding Primary School will relocate to Dowerin District High School when classes resume next January. Since opening in 1926, more than 250 students have passed through the halls of the small school when there was a single teacher in a single building, but where the tools of technology now sit. While principal Jenny Graffin said the Ejanding community agreed to the closure to give students more choices at a bigger school, "we feel a bit sad about the closure and the decision was not arrived at easily". Ms Graffin said the closure was brought about due to declining enrolments and, with only nine students remaining, the parents reluctantly came to the decision that they would be better served in a larger centre. While the students at Ejanding, who range in age from five to 10, already spend Friday afternoons at Dowerin playing sport, they will soon commence a transition program at Dowerin to orientate them into the school system. While travelling on school buses will be nothing new for the students, the distance they travel will now be about 30km each way, a distance considerably longer than they are used to. Ejanding parent Sharon Jones said the distance would more than likely be a strain on her youngest child, aged five, but her older children aged seven and nine would be able to cope. Mrs Jones said it was primarily for her oldest daughter that the decision to move to a bigger school was made. She said, while the decision to recommend the school be closed was an extremely difficult one involving mixed emotions, she felt the older children needed to be challenged more, to mix with other children of the same age and to see how they compared with other students. "It was a hard decision, but however tough, it was time to do it ‹ though the kids still aren't happy about it," she said. Gabbin is a slightly bigger school, with 16 enrolments, but parents have made the decision to recommend the school be closed, with students now relocating to schools in Bencubbin, Koorda and Mukinbudin. After opening in 1922 with 13 students and one teacher, Gabbin is closing just short of its 80th birthday and with the closure meaning an end of a four-generation tradition for some Gabbin families, the students are just as disappointed as parents to see it close. The first review to look at closing the Gabbin school was in 1994, and while some parents were hoping to see the school remain open until December 2001, other parents sending students to other schools early meant it made better sense to close next month. School principal Cynthia Gibson said it had been a difficult decision for everyone and there were mixed feelings about the school closing. Like other centres, the school's closure will have a lasting effect on the Gabbin community "which is very much a family school and community centre". Ms Gibson said, for those who worked at the school in administrative positions, they would also have to go elsewhere to find the same work opportunities. Students from Gabbin will also have to travel considerably further distances than they are used to, with students attending Bencubbin travelling about 40 minutes per trip, while those attending Mukinbudin would have a slightly longer journey. But Gabbin P&C president Peter Farmer said he didn't think this would be a problem as it was the same distance his children were travelling at the moment. With two children aged 11 and eight currently at Gabbin, who will move to Bencubbin, the decision to recommend the historic old school be closed was a hard one "with sentiment ruling for a while", he said. "But in the end it was for the benefit of the children and is simply a sign of the times," he said. Education Minister Colin Barnett said parents knew that very small schools provided limited social and educational opportunities for their children "and we really need to look at alternatives for them, to give them the best chance". He said it was also difficult for the schools to provide a wide range of learning environments and educational opportunities to suit all ages with such small numbers. "Relocating the children to a larger school will mean they have access to increased curriculum choice, greater access to specialist teaching staff and additional educational resources," he said.


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