The Heartbreak of a Closed School

[imgbelt img=Canvas.jpg]The school at Canvas was never much to look at, but it was the heart of
the community. Now we know that consolidating schools not only failed
communities, it failed education, too.


Betty Dotson-Lewis

My brother drove across the country hoping to show his wife where he went to school. The school was gone.

A year ago, an audit of the West Virginia Department of Education (PE 09-w0-466) provided statistics and other data backing up parents’ gut feeling that consolidation of small rural schools is not necessarily good for students. The state’s graduation rate had not improved in 15 years, and one of the reasons could be that the state’s schools were too large.

Here is some of what the audit found:

It is apparent that large high schools in West Virginia have negative influences on the dropout and graduation rates that are distinct from academic performance. 

These negative influences are more likely associated with the school environment, student attitudes towards the school, and a lack of interpersonal relationships with faculty members. However, larger high schools and class sizes are only a part of the influences that come from larger district sizes. Other factors are having a negative influence on the graduation rates that are not easy to measure. 

As a result of the multi-faceted issues that affect the graduation and dropout rates that are derived from larger districts, there is a need for a comprehensive approach to overcome the obstacles to improving the state’s high school graduation rate. Part of that approach must include a DOE study of the full impact that school consolidation is having on education outcomes, such as the graduation rate. 

To those who hold on to memories, important events and people, Canvas will never be the same without Canvas Grade School. It was more than a cinder block building painted a sick yellow; more than a couple of tire swings tied to one of the trees or a hop scotch pattern on a side walk. 

Canvas Grade School held the community together:  students, parents, teachers and community leaders. 

One of my five brothers made his home in the State of Washington. He made a cross-country trip, traveling the path he’d hitchhiked when a young man. One of the highlights of this trip was to show his wife Canvas Elementary. 

He was heartbroken to find out his school no longer existed even though the community was thriving and people were building homes. He said that it made no sense to close such a good school only to bus students a greater distance from their homes. My brother is outspoken and served as president of the PTA in his own district out west.

West Virginia has been creating bigger schools and larger classrooms for more than 20 years. We’ve proved that the one-size-fits all (larger) school does not save money and creates a personal and social loss not reflected on any balance sheet.

Betty Dotson-Lewis is a native of Nicholas County, West Virginia, and a regular Daily Yonder contributor.