The Bellingham School District and its Facilities Planning Task Force has included in its recommendations the retirement of Larrabee School as part of a larger proposal to upgrade both Lowell and Happy Valley elementary schools.
Throughout the task force process and subsequent community meetings, the Larrabee PTA has been working to ensure our school community has been informed of the process, and that its input has been heard and considered by the task force and district leadership.
The following letter was sent to Larrabee School families and to the superintendent as he considers the recommendations and moves toward a final decision:
We understand there's a bigger picture here than just our school - the Facilities Planning Task Force has been considering a range of needs in facilities that serve some 10,000 students across our district. We recognize the complexity of these decisions, and would never want to compromise the education of any child in our district. We are also aware of the limitations that Larrabee's size presents to staff and students. However, there are many advantages to Larrabee as well. As the decision-making process moves now to the superintendent and school board, we want to summarize key strengths for which we will continue to fight:
Family Engagement - Much of Larrabee's high level of family engagement is a function of the school's small size and location in a neighborhood where so many children walk to school. Teachers walk their children out of the school at the end of each day to awaiting parents. The informal connections made in this context strengthen ties among teachers, students and families. Discussions regarding events, progress, behavior, challenges and celebrations are not limited to scheduled check-ins, but are part of the daily life of the school. This in turn drives parents into classrooms, increases family participation in school events and fosters a familial atmosphere.
Community - It takes a village, and Larrabee is one. Children and parents are known and recognized at Larrabee to an uncommon degree, a benefit to learning and social development that may not be measurable but is immensely valuable. Children do not get lost at Larrabee; indeed, for better or worse, there is nowhere to hide, a quality that applies to staff and families as well.
Enrichment - The smallest school in the district has the most robust after-school enrichment program. We are an economically mixed population, with more than 40 percent of our students qualifying for free and reduced lunch. With daily opportunities until 4 p.m., our enrichment program helps cover childcare gaps while offering classes ranging from chess, math, basketball and field games to drums, strings, choir, art and theater. With scholarships, high-quality instructors and expert coordination, it has become a model for other schools.
Stewardship - Working with what we have and making what we have work is an important value at Larrabee. This old building- appreciating its history, working with its foibles and enjoying its quirks is a daily lesson: yes, classrooms are small; children learn flexibility, creativity, boundaries and respect for each other's space; yes, the stairs are steep; children learn caution, and get exercise the old-fashioned way; yes, kindergarteners must leave the classroom to use the restroom; children learn responsibility. Larrabee is old enough to have been our great-grandparents' school. Children, staff, and families see how we're rooted in the past, and learn that when we take care of things, they take care of us.
We are struck by the irony of the proposed retirement of Larrabee. In an effort to better serve students into the future - especially in terms of supporting achievement associated with higher academic standards and changing program goals - we stand to lose what Larrabee represents in terms of facilitating the other, "whole child" aspects of growth to which our district and community so proudly aspires in the Bellingham Promise:
"Dependable and responsible workers, innovators and creators, confident individuals who continuously challenge themselves, respectful and compassionate humans, honest and ethical citizens who act with integrity, and well-rounded community members engaged with the broader world."
While we make no exclusive claim, Larrabee clearly shines in nurturing these qualities, even as other schools strive to make them more attainable.
As the facilities and funding process moves toward the school board decision, a potential closure process, and a bond to the voters, we will make every effort to ensure that district leadership considers all that Larrabee has to offer Bellingham's present and future students.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Diana Gruman and Kathryn Mitchell are co-presidents of the Larrabee PTA.