Luther College Chips

Proposed school: Proximity to Luther not reason enough

Olivia Benson, Head Copy Editor

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After returning to campus three weeks ago, it seems like talk of the proposal to construct an elementary school in Anderson Prairie has been inescapable. I have seen flyers across campus, been invited to numerous panels concerning the prairie, and read a number of pleas on Facebook to oppose the proposal. Many of my peers, both science majors and not, have offered compelling arguments against the proposed school founded in the health of the prairie and the importance of conservation. While I do agree with their opinions, I would like to consider the proposed school from the perspective of an education major and a future teacher, voices I have found noticeably absent in this discussion.

In the issues of Chips printed on Dec. 4 , Decorah Community School District Superintendent Michael Haluska said that “the school board looks to engage in educational collaboration if the new facility is built in close proximity to Luther’s campus, such as establishing a laboratory-type setting in the prairie and also bringing in Luther students to help teach second languages to elementary students.” While I cannot deny that this kind of collaboration would be beneficial to both parties, I find it absurd to suggest that such a partnership would suddenly result from an elementary school in such close proximity to Luther.

After all, John Cline Elementary is already just a five-minute drive from campus. If Luther students and classes would be willing to make the five-minute walk to the proposed school, shouldn’t they logically also be willing to make the five-minute drive to John Cline? Therefore, how would the proposed elementary school change Luther’s current relationship with and access to Decorah schools? Luther students and the education department already work closely with John Cline. There are a multitude of students placed at the school for ED185 and teaching practicums, student workers and volunteers collaborating with classroom teachers in the school, and Luther students volunteering their time to tutor academically struggling students. What educational opportunities could a new elementary school possibly offer than John Cline Elementary isn’t already providing? If Luther language students would benefit from teaching in a elementary school, why aren’t they already doing? Suggesting that the proposed elementary school on Anderson Prairie would bring new educational opportunities to Luther students completely ignores our current partnership with John Cline and is blatantly unfounded in reality.

Furthermore, anyone interested in volunteering or working in the Decorah Community School District has to pay at least a $47 fee to obtain a background check. I find it unlikely that any Luther class would feel that reducing our proximity to an elementary school by one mile merited adapting their curriculum to allow for a partnership with said elementary school. However, let’s say that a department or class was motivated to change their curriculum to collaborate with the elementary school. Would any academic department be willing to charge students potentially hundreds of dollars for the necessary background checks to do so? Moreover, if Luther classes outside of the education department could benefit from a partnership with Decorah schools why aren’t they currently pursuing them? How would the newly proposed school change anything in this regard?

Finally, the proposed elementary school would not only be a detriment to the prairie, but I feel it would also be a detriment to the students of said school. No child wants to attend school in a community where the presence of their school is unwanted by community members. From the reactions I have seen to the proposal to build an elementary school on the prairie I can say with some certainty that if the elementary school is built it will be met by animosity from the majority of the population at Luther. Students deserve better than to receive an education where their very presence is considered a travesty. Decorah teachers deserve better than to work in a school where, through no fault of their own, they will likely face stigma and bias because of the repercussions of the construction of their school building.

If students and teachers will not benefit from the proposed elementary school on the Anderson Prairie and Luther will not receive any additional benefits from the proposed elementary school, what can be done? How do we move forward? I don’t have the perfect solution and I’m sure that there are nuances to this discussion that I can only begin to understand. What I can offer however, is a request. A request to those who still are in favor of the proposed school on Anderson Prairie to stop using the proximity of the proposed elementary school as an argument for its existence. It will be only one mile closer than John Cline Elementary and, in all actuality, will change very little in our current relationship with Decorah Community School District. For those of you that already oppose the school proposal, I implore you to not only consider the biological and environmental consequences of this potential school, but the educational consequences as well. There has to be a better solution for Decorah Community School District as they seek to incorporate students from the North Winneshiek Community School District. Could they not revisit the other potential sites for their new school? Is there no way to expand on John Cline Elementary or Carrie Lee Elementary to accommodate for this influx of new students? I know that I do not have the answers to these questions. But I do know that there has to be an alternative to this proposed elementary school which will ultimately benefit neither Luther, nor the prairie, nor the Decorah Community School District.

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