Colleen Murray

Colleen Murray

Independent school near Qualicum Beach seeking students, funding

Director says the school's curriculum has been certified by the provincial government

Even as Colleen Murray is getting an education on starting up a new school, she is being schooled in the art of remodeling an existing one.

The former Morning Glory School, a small, private school in the Whiskey Creek area, closed its doors for good at the end of the 2015-16 school year. Murray, who was chair of the school’s board, is preparing to re-open those freshly painted doors this fall on the newly created Arrowsmith Independent School.

“The purpose of this building was to be a school, so let’s make it a school and make it something the whole community can be proud of,” said Murray, who now wears both paint-splattered clothes and the title of director at the new school located at 861 Hilliers Rd. in Qualicum Beach.

The new-look school will be unveiled to the public on Friday, with an open house from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. The open house will continue the following day, Aug. 13, when Arrowsmith School hosts a family fun day, also from 10 a.m.-2 p.m., featuring an inflatable obstacle course, barbecue, games, treats and prizes.

There has been little change in the curriculum in the transition from Morning Glory to Arrowsmith Independent, a K-7 elementary school with an additional pre-school that will now offer a full-day option. But there is a major shift away from the parent-run model the former school used while providing a life skills-enhanced alternative to the public school system, Murray said.

“Morning Glory was not sustainable,” said Murray, who advanced from rookie PAC member to school board chair in just three years as other parents and directors drifted away. “There was kind of a poverty mentality. A lot of things had started to fall by the wayside. After so many years of scraping by, we have new momentum.”

What Arrowsmith Independent School does not yet have, however, is a sufficient number of students to fill all its available classrooms, Murray noted. Nor has it found the financial backer she’d hoped would step forward when Morning Glory was disbanded.

Instead, she and her partner, Ryan Lomax, have poured their own money into the remodeling of the two-storey, four-classroom building. With help from extended family, they have painted inside and out, refinished the original hardwood floors and cleaned up much of the overgrown brush that literally hid the structure from the street.

“People have told me, ‘You’re putting the cart before the horse,'” said Murray. “We said, ‘No, we’ve got to shiny it up.’

“We felt this was kept from the community. I had a woman who has lived here for years come up and tell me, ‘I didn’t know this facility was here, and I drive by every day to work.'”

The school, built on the rural property of Morning Glory co-founder George Dudek, is something of a hybrid model. Its curriculum is certified by the B.C. Ministry of Education, but retains some of its original Waldorf independent curriculum, heavy on life skills development like growing, harvesting, preparing and serving food.

“It’s not an elective; why would it be?” Murray said. “It’s more of a lifestyle, not just a school thing. The things the students are learning are the things I want to learn.”

Operational funding will come from a mix of tuition, B.C. Ministry of Education subsidization and fundraisers, Murray said. But there will be much less reliance on the latter, even as tuition costs have risen.

“We’re up to $150 a month,” she said, “but we’re adding value. We’ll have a janitor. If we’re asking you to pay tuition, you shouldn’t have to scrub our toilets.”

You also won’t have to paint the building. But you are welcome to contribute input to the new school’s direction, she said.

“This is a blank canvas,” said Murray. “We’ve painted some of it, but there’s still room for people’s ideas.”

To learn more or to register a student, call 250-752-2722, visit www.arrowsmithindependentschool.ca, or stop by the open house.

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