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Education and Community Economic Development

Schools have the potential to positively impact the socio-economic health of communities when attention to community economic development principles are applied. A number of steps can be taken by a school community to play a role in maintaining capital within their own community. Engaging the local community assets, purchasing and hiring locally when possible, offering specialized programs that keep families and teachers in the community, linking to local employment opportunities, hosting visitors or international students and families for programs and related events are some of the ways to make a greater impact at the community level.  more on this…  School participation in local community economic development, (Kretzmann,J. 1993), offers background and practical ideas for taking these steps, along with an overview of school projects that reflect this focus.

Considering the local economy in school planning can apply in all situations, rural or urban. Looking at the context of rural schools as an example, we can see clearly the potential role schools can play in supporting local community economic development. Rural schools are often linked to the viability of the community – when a school faces closure due to a drop in enrolment, the economic impact for the extended community can be substantial. Some school communities respond to this challenge by becoming economic and social drivers within the community. In Alberta there are several examples of  rural schools that have responded to these economic challenges with a broad, community-based entrepreneurial approach:

  • The Vauxhall Academy of Baseball is an example of an Alberta high school that has been innovative to remain viable in the community. Their community has been highly engaged in this specialized program which now has an international draw that brings together highly rated academics, top coaching, training, and facilities for students working towards baseball scholarships and/or professional aspirations. In turn, all students participate in regular volunteer activities in the community. Leveraging government funding, local business and corporate supporters and partnerships, the Academy is one of the top ten rated academic schools in the province and has provided a successful start for many young professionally ranked players.
  • Rosebud School of the Arts began as an outreach program for Calgary youth.  In 1986, this faith-based school established the Rosebud School of the Arts Guild and began offering post-secondary theatre training. This evolved into Rosebud School of the Art’s current one-year Certificate in Theatre Foundations programme and 3-year Mentorship Programme which trains people for careers in professional theatre. Meanwhile, renovations to the old Opera House allows the Rosebud Theatre to host over 38,000 patrons annually. Their resident company of artists now present 206 performances a year, providing apprenticeship opportunities for senior students from the School of the Arts. In 1994, the first production of the Canadian Badlands Passion Play began, along with a three week accredited summer program for high school students. Rosebud’s commitment to grass roots development is evident in the creation of theatre ventures in other communities who now exist as independent organizations. Now a tourist destination, Rosebud has a thriving museum, several craft stores, an art Gallery, a golf course, many Bed & Breakfasts and of course the Rosebud Theatre.

Acknowledging constraints of being part of a bigger system, each and every school has an opportunity to examine their impact on the local economy and contribution to building a healthy community. Using an adaptation of the Coady International Institute’s “leaky bucket” tool, schools can consider their inputs into the school economy and their subsequent outputs – where is the money being spent and what are the opportunities to keep funds within the community?


click to enlarge:

Fig 15 leaky bucket

For more on the Leaky Bucket tool for communities to assess their local inflows and outflows of capitol, see the Coady Institute’s “Community Economic Literacy and the Leaky Bucket” (G. Cunningham, 2011)