I have strong views on the awfulness of schools, not just Australian schools, any school. That anyone survives the dreariness of school always surprises me. Some don't survive it well. Often what gets killed is an innate curiosity about what makes life tick. And then I heard this story.
The Murray~Darling river system covers 2 750 kilometres; that's 2 300 miles or 1/7th of Australia's catchment area. It drains much of the 3 eastern states: Victoria, New South Wales & S.E Queensland, forming part of the N.S.W/Victoria border. In extreme drought it has even been known to dry up completely, not a happy state of affairs for anyone.
In the old days paddle steamers worked the Murray river carting goods & chattels. The paddle steamers are still there, lugging tourists up & down short stretches of the Murray. Along the way they stop at points of interest. One of their stops is Mypolonga. So far as I can tell Mypolonga is a one horse town with nothing to particularly recommend it ~ except its school; except its school; except its school.
Mypolonga Primary school is how school should be. Now I know about small country schools. Twenty odd years ago when we moved to the island one of its drawcards was it boasted a school; two teachers & a whole 30 kids on a good day.
Small country schools struggle for a slice of the educational funding. They struggle for rescources, for equipment, for teachers & teacher aides, for the things big city schools take for granted. Their P&Cs work overtime & their local businesses are always being asked to fork over funds. When numbers drop they lose a teacher ~ & don't necessarily get one back when numbers climb again. They share special ed teachers ~ if their area is lucky enough to have one at all. Really small schools live with the constant threat of closure. You can't play team sports because you don't have enough kids to form teams. Making education relevant is a losing battle, a battle that Mypolonga is winning.
This small South Australian school on the banks of the Murray River is turning over something like A$15, 000 a year!!! How? By thinking outside the box.
Mypolonga runs a school store, a store run & operated by the upper primary children. All the grades contribute items to the store from bookmarks made in the lower grades to the chocolate coated apricots produced by the grade 7s but they also sell crafts on consignment from 30 odd suppliers. Now listen to what these kids do.
When the tourists arrive they are met by a student, welcomed & given the spiel about how the store began: that's public speaking. Students serve at the counter: math & public relations. They ask visitors to sign the visitor's book & on the super large map of the world they mark with pins the places their visitors have come from & learn about them: that's geography. The school bus, used to pick up visitors, is cleaned each week by the students. [Wonder how many of them still have to be nagged to clean their rooms?] There is a garden attached to the shop. The kids make the price stickers & attach them to their produce along with the consignor's initials. This is recorded. When the bus leaves each consignors total sales are recorded & entered on the spreadsheet. At the end of term each commision & total profit is calculated. Seriously. Yes it requires lots of adult supervision & dedicated teachers but they make a profit of about A$6 000 each year. From this largess they have purchased such things as musical instruments, typing instructors & an overhead projector.
I can't get over all the life lessons this sort of an education provides but I have thought of one drawback. How on earth do these kids cope when they land in their very, very ordinary high school?!