I've had the opportunity to reside in a number of communities during my adult life, and looking back, around, and ahead, it's pretty easy to see, in my opinion, that the lifeblood of a community is its school.
I've lived in college communities, K-12 communities, a bedroom community (no school, clinic, or large business), and a rural setting. My childhood included attending many different schools. During early childhood I was even blessed with the opportunity to attend one year of country school. That country school (as well as the churches) was the social gathering place of the rural valley in southeast Minnesota. All of the students, 1st thru 8th grades, found their way through the winding valley to where two roads converged at Wiscoy Valley School. My family lived conveniently less than a mile from the one-room building, well within walking distance during most weather conditions. During really foul weather one of the neighbor boys, an eighth grader, would drive one of their farm tractors and pick up my sister and me along the way. We would ride in style, standing on the rear axle of the makeshift bus with our posteriors resting against the faded red fender.
As I look back at the experience, I can see that that this school (and sometimes getting there) was a collective effort, even for students: some of us took turns getting the firewood; others took turns getting the drinking water from the hand-pump well out front to fill the stone crock; and others watched the younger ones as they played outside at lunch time and recess. Being the youngest, and the only first grader, I was assigned one of the first two chores. We gathered in this school for what was my first recollected Christmas program. Even though we had but one teacher for multiple grades, there were collectively only 20-25 of us students. When the school closed at the end of that year and we were shipped fifteen miles via bus to the newly assigned school district, I still found that the larger multi-classroom school was also a community effort for students: some were crossing guards; some cleaned chalk boards; and still others (who showed mathematical abilities to tally the numbers posted on the slips at each door) delivered milk cartons to all of the classrooms for their break time. Traversing to/from the second floor pulling that red wagon was a challenge, but we made it work - we had to -- it was our designated task, for the good of the students. Through additional school buildings and one additional community, the venue and atmosphere frequently changed for me, but the expectations of students, parents, and community continued to be the same: keep involved and do your part to keep your school community successful.
This fall I had the opportunity to step forward and ask the observantly overwhelmed volunteer coaches of elementary football if they needed any assistance. I didn't (and still don't) claim to be the best or most knowledgeable coach in the world. But, I did show a heart for kids by giving them encouragement and helping them to learn the fundamentals. It was and still is a community effort, even at this level. There were a number of dads out there putting their hearts into it, and others watching who might help if asked, but it was still easy to notice that the program went and goes beyond the volunteerism. The uniforms and equipment were made possible through cooperative donations to the program and school via local businesses (evident by the screen-printed names and logos on the jerseys), giving out of their pockets so that the 75+ 5th-6th grade boys, from PWMS, St. Paul's, and St. Henry's, might a have a chance to participate in a fee-based Perham/Dent school program.
It might be easy to step back and say, "It's not my job"; "I don't have the qualifications"; or "I no longer have kids in school". Please don't get me wrong; I love people of all ages: youth, their desire to learn and endless energy that keeps us all young; working age people, their desire to achieve (and possibly help their children achieve); retirees, their reflection on life, living their "best" years to the fullest, and even the concept of being retired one day. When I do retire, I hope to continue to live in and be a part of community with a healthy school. I believe that our local school district is our responsibility, not that of the State or Federal government (who are so evidently no longer able to assist in the manner that they have) or just those who are directly involved with Perham's schools. I, for one, would like to see Perham and its school system thrive. Even though I wasn't born in Perham nor am I a graduate of PHS (but, hopefully, my children will be), I am proud to say that I am a fan of Perham/Dent's school system and all that it is to the community and the area. It is my opinion that businesses are the heart of a community; churches can be the soul; but schools are the lifeblood. Strong communities need strong schools.