Last week my kids started taking a kayaking class at the Homer High School pool. They both like kayaking, but we had to drag Aurora; she didn't think it would be "cool" enough. By time she was done with class the first night, she was looking forward to going back, and had added kayaking to her list of sports she loves. And although Denver capsized dozens of times in his small little boat, he left in high spirits, bragging about how much better he had gotten over the course of the night. The highlight of the class was creating a "raft" of kayaks with everyone holding onto each others kayaks, and then one by one the kids crawled out of their boat and had to crawl over everyone else's kayak. It was a blast for the kids, and they thought it was hilarious when one kayak got sunk!
Kayaking is only the latest of our kids' fun with classes offered through Homer Community Schools. Aurora rock climbs twice a week at the high school, Doug plays pickup basketball twice a week, Aurora plays basketball with the Bruins, (over 30 kids grades 3-6 participating) and finally, Denver has discovered his passion for wrestling through the Popeye Wrestling Program. All of these are offered under the auspices of Homer Community Schools.
Homer Community Schools is sponsored by the City of Homer and the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District. It is considered part of the city's Parks and Recreation Department, so the director of the program is paid by the city. The school district offers the building use for free, which is appropriate, since in Alaska school buildings are owned and maintained by the borough. When area voters decided last year to remove sales tax from food during the winter months as a relief to locals' pocketbooks, the city lost a significant source of income. The economy was sluggish this summer, so sales taxes from local businesses were also down. Between these 2 factors, Homer Community Schools, along with many other valuable programs and offerings in Homer, face the chopping block. If this happened, hundreds of community members of all ages would be out of recreational opportunities, and dozens of dedicated volunteers who teach classes of all types would not have an outlet for passing on their passions.
My first assignment for the kids at the beginning of this homeschool year was to write a letter to the Homer City Council or a letter to the editor. I spoke to the City Council president in passing one day, and he mentioned that it is more effective to show up in person. Denver jumped at the chance to give a speech, so the following Monday Doug took him to the City Council meeting and he testified, sharing why he thought Community Schools should be kept. A month or so later, at another City Council meeting, Aurora unexpectedly took the opportunity to present as well. For her it was a heartfelt plea, completely unplanned, as she shared her feelings about the matter: through the offerings of Community Schools she has discovered passions that mean so much to her, and those activities give her something to do and give purpose to her life.
As a parent, my heart aches at the thought of what losing Homer Community Schools would do in my family. The $68,000 cash outlay a year that the entire program costs seems like paltry sum for all the good it does, month after month, year after year--echos for a lifetime for the hundreds of people who utilize the program. And like all good things, once it is gone it will never come back. It has taken years of development to get the programs to where they are at now.
What will my daughter do if there is no Community Schools? I just don't know. There are other options out there, I suppose, though undoubtedly they will cost significantly more than what Community Schools programs cost. But even more than that, what of those passions that have been kindled? What happens when you take those things away? How does one get through the long, dark winters in Alaska without the beacon of activities, interests, social contacts and exercise to pull them through?