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The Community School Movement on Prince Edward Island is a unique initiative in Canada, seeking to combine adult education and community development in an informal atmosphere of fun and sociability. The movement was initiated by the provincial government in the 1960s, in recognition of the need for a program to rejuvenate the Island’s rural communities.

The period after World War II brought development to most areas of Canada but this urban, industrial development had a negative impact on rural areas. The costs of farm production began to outweigh the prices received for agricultural products. Many farmers were forced to abandon their traditional livelihood and left their communities to find work elsewhere. School consolidation during this time also signalled the loss of innumerable one-room schoolhouses that had been the centre of the Island’s small communities. In the light of these economic and social difficulties, Swiss-born Rudi Dallenbach was invited to the Island to explore possibilities for rural development in Prince Edward Island.

Dallenbach’s legacy of a network of community schools across the province still persists today. During the winter of 1965–1966, three pilot schools were created in Tignish, Kensington, and Mount Stewart. Sponsored by the Town’s Board of Trade, the Kensington community school was the only pilot school to survive the first decade of the movement (although numerous others had been added to the network). The second year saw a total of twelve schools and, by the third year, there were twenty community schools active across Prince Edward Island.

Originally, the purpose of these classes was to provide an opportunity for informal education and a chance to enliven dismal winter evenings through drama, reading, debating, and lectures. It was hoped that these activities would provide important skills for future rural leaders. Community school programs would enable them to participate better in public affairs and self-improvement. Early popular courses related to agriculture, Guitar Classsewing, conversational French, homemaking, farm accounting, oil painting, and ballroom dancing. The courses were phenomenally successful in overcoming people’s negative attitudes toward education while fostering better relationships between schools and the community. The nightly coffee breaks were a wonderful opportunity to socialize with one’s neighbours, and the closing banquets were a festive opportunity to share with others the skills one had learned.

In its early years, the Community Schools were strictly rural phenomena but, by 1973, they had sprouted in Summerside and Charlottetown and their focus began to expand from strictly skills-based activities to more crafts and recreation. By this time, Community Schools had ceased to be a means to achieve community development. They had become an end in themselves—important social and cultural institutions to which Islanders across the province look forward in the dreary days following the holiday season.

Many courses have retained their popularity over the years. Art, drama, music, sewing, knitting, dancing, car care, and gardening classes are guaranteed to fill a classroom. Some classes have even been springboards for community organizations. The Belfast Historical Society, for example, grew out of Community School, Crocheting Classa Community School history course. Increasingly, agencies such as the Canadian Red Cross, St. John’s Ambulance, U.P.E.I. Extension, and the provincial Department of Agriculture are giving courses through the Community Schools. Other new courses emerge according to people’s interests. Lately, those Islanders interested in taking a computer use or internet course at their local community school have to arrive early on registration day if they want a spot in the class.

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