Keswick & Barrie Schools

The Browndale school at Keswick


For the past 21/2 years, Douglas Galloway has carried the overall responsibility for the school programmes in the Barrie-Newmarket area of Browndale for children who are not able to attend community schools. Before that, he worked as a Browndale therapeutic parenting staff for 2 years.

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Our programme has been geared towards readjusting the children's attitudes about them­selves and about school, attempt­ing to stimulate and develop their learning skills on a level and in a setting that is comfortable for them and familiar to them. Famil­iar because their child care staff are with them and in the sense of the physical surroundings that they work in, the type of furniture that we provide, the tools that they use, the type of projects that they undertake. Not only are these projects geared to the interests of the children, many of them come out of the suggestions and ideas of the children themselves.

We try to provide our children with a comfortable relationship with one of the school staff. Most of us worked in Browndale thera­peutic families before we became school staff so we have had plenty of experience in dealing with our kids and we know what the pro­gramme as a whole can provide for them. We act as middlemen in that we help the child begin to re­late the things that happen be­tween school and home and begin to learn how to sort out the things that happen in each place and deal with them in the proper place.

In this type of setting, children are able to look at their socializing and from the experience of being part of a community, they gain feelings of satisfaction in them­selves and others, appreciation of their own talents and desires and ability to perform. And once they have been properly stimulated, and given the relationship which helps develop the strength our children need to make it through a normal school day, they are able then to move out to a community school.

Our Newmarket school pro­gramme, Red Wheel Farm located in Keswick, is presently operating with a small number of children and a 2:1 ratio of children to staff. This has made it possible for a staff person to follow through with one or two children for a whole day, a week, or a month, on one particular basic idea, helping them explore all the subjects re­lated to it - even to abstract ideas.

Through our arts and crafts and model building programme we have been able to help our children make use of materials and ideas that would otherwise seem academic and.uninteresting to them. A child's model of a dino­saur can lead to discussions of evolution and time, a trip to the museum, or to the greenhouse to see how plants change, a trip in the woods including lunch - cave­man style - which is interesting and understandable for the child, as well as challenging.

In the past year, we have started a pre-school programme which is successfully helping de­tect the special learning problems that some of our children have, as well as stimulating them and building up their confidence in themselves at a younger age. This, we hope, will pay off for them in a shorter stay with us.

We are also building an animal care programme using farm ani­mals which gives the children opportunities to look at some of life's natural cycles - an animal's life and family, birth, death, day-to-day routines, how to pro­vide for an animal and what an animal provides for us. The chil­dren also benefit from the day-to­day fun with the animals.

The Red Wheel Farm pro­gramme operates year round.

During the summer it reaches a much larger community by pro­viding a daily arts and crafts programme, an animal pro­gramme or - for the family living in the city - an escape for a day to the country, or a place to stop in for a good lunch on the way to the beach.

Our school programme in Barrie - described more fully in Mike Owen's article which follows mine- has been very successful in its use of an elaborate workshop programme which our children use as a tool to help them learn how to measure accurately, to de­velop co-ordination and exper­ience in working together with other children. They also learn how to produce useful and inter­esting articles: stools, chests of drawers, toys for themselves and for younger brothers and sisters.

For the past year this pro­gramme has been offered not only to the children in residential treatment but also to children from the satellite programme who are referred to us from home or school.

Groups of teachers and people in education administration who come to visit our schools all say that they would like to have some type of alternative along the lines of our programme for some of the children in their schools who need to develop a better appreciation of themselves. These teachers want the type of school system in which each child has an equal opportunity to succeed in deve­loping his full potential. 

The Browndale school at Barri

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Mike Owen is in charge of the Brown-dale school programme in Barrie. His background includes 2Vi years exper­ience as a Browndale therapeutic parenting staff.

The Browndale school in Barrie is located in a big, beautiful, old house with a large garden close to the town centre. About 30 children use the school. The majority of them are from Brown-dale therapeutic families in Barrie but some of them are in the satellite programme and live with their own families in Barrie or nearby towns.

The range of ages and interests is wide. The youngest child is five and the oldest 17. They attend our school because the education system is unable to meet their needs as either people or pupils. Consequently, the focus of our school is constantly on what the individual child needs to grow (in the widest sense) rather than on what the school needs to "pro­vide an education" or to run smoothly.

Many programmes suggested by the staff at school are used by the children; however, many an idea dear to an adult's heart has been passed up in favour of something more in tune with a child's particular needs at that time.

The school needs to be flexible enough to help each child feel that he is achieving, growing, learning. To help make this pos­sible the child care staff spend a great deal of time in the school and are one of the most valuable resources that the school has. A child does not stop being a per­son and become a pupil when he steps through the school door. He still has the same human needs he had at home and it is very re­assuring for a child to know that there is someone at school he is close to who can support and help him through the day and make it easier for him to do things and learn things that would otherwise be difficult for him.

This flexibility must respect what is important to kids: what the child feels is an achievement as opposed to what an adult might think is an achievement for that child.

Visitors to the school may be somewhat bewildered, initially, by the apparent confusion of 30 or so kids doing 30 or so differ­ent things at the same time. Downstairs in the workshop a couple of boys might be building a go-kart together, one or two girls might be making a jewellery box or a dresser, one of the older boys might be making a coke bottle lamp on the lathe, another boy might be making a stool out of pine branches gathered from the local forest. These and other activities make up the 400 or so projects completed over the past four months. Out front it's a group of kids building things they like, but behind the scenes it's people learning how big is big, how small

is small. Learning, also, how to communicate - not just one-way communication with a teacher be­hind a desk, but two-way com­munication with many different people.

On the main floor, in the kitchen, one of the school staff will be cooking with kids popping in to help. Upstairs, we have a room for copper enamelling, candle-making and batiking. There is also a large arts and crafts room, a library and a room where the younger kids can play in the sandbox and in the store that they have built.

We make use of community re­sources such as the local skating arena, the Barrie film and book libraries and the YMCA where we swim every week and where the younger children take part in a learning-through-movement gym programme. We also visit local industries and businesses and other places of interest in the area.

These and other programmes are offered continually by the school staff, but the most import­ant things that happen in the school come from the kids' ideas. A good example of this was last November's production of "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown". A couple of the teenage girls had seen the musical during the sum­mer and suggested doing the play on a small scale at school. The project snowballed until it in­volved the whole school. Four of the teenage girls sang in the play and one of the staff took the part of Charlie Brown. A child care staff designed the stage and props and he and the kids built and painted it. One of the boys who is very talented at electronics built a light control box; another boy designed a pro­gramme and three of the boys were stagehands. Doing two pro­ductions of this play in one even­ing and participating in eight weeks of rehearsals speaking vol­umes for the talents, interest and enthusiasm of the kids involved.

However, this isn't really so sur­prising, because people are nat­urally interested, involved and enthusiastic. When you put a kid behind a desk and "stimulate his interest" you communicate a neg­ative attitude towards him and a disregard for his talents. There are other ways to learn.