#7 – Lifelong Community Learning Opportunities and Our School System

It is clear from the community survey and future summits that the community of Falmouth highly values learning for its residents, and that lifelong learning will be important to the future of Falmouth. Falmouth’s school system holds a high-quality reputation that draws families to the district. Support of the recent library expansion further underscores Falmouth’s interest in additional learning opportunities and environments within the community. How do you think the community can increase collaboration and connections for learning opportunities in Falmouth?

What we know so far (from the Community Survey results and background research work):

HISTORY

  • The earliest records of an official school building in present day Falmouth appear to be of the Winslow School which opened in 1807 at the corner of Brook and Blackstrap Roads. For the majority of Falmouth’s history, there were several primary schools located in neighborhoods throughout town. A central high school (today the Plummer Senior Living) was constructed in the 1930s.
  • In 2011, the construction of Falmouth Elementary School (grades K-5) was completed, the final step in a vision to have all of Falmouth’s Schools on one campus. The other two schools include the Falmouth Middle School (grades 6-8) and the Falmouth High School (grades 9-12). The current Middle School was constructed in the 1950s as a high school, but has undergone several major additions, renovations, and modifications since that time. The most recent updates in 2013 included the conversion of the heating system to a wood-chip fired hot water system, and the renovation of science and music wing classrooms, including new window walls and univents. The High School was constructed and occupied in the fall of 2001 and includes an expansive gymnasium and dedicated theater/performance space.
  • All three Falmouth schools were recipients of the Department of Education Blue Ribbon Award for Outstanding Public and Private Schools in the last 5 year.  
  • School enrollment has been steady over the past 12+ years with less than 5% variance, although it has been trending down slightly over the past three years.
  • Falmouth Memorial Library opened in 1952 and included multiple branches throughout town.
  • A recent and extensive library expansion project added some 8000 square feet to the facility. Pre-pandemic, the library welcomed over 100,000 visitors each year, 9,000 of whom attended an average of 600 programs annually.
  • The Library is a 501(c)3 non-profit, depending on public tax support from the Town of Falmouth (about 77% of the budget) and on donations (12%).

RELATED MACRO TRENDS

  • Advancements in technology and changing demographics are macro trends that impact learning and skills development at all stages of life. Exponential changes in technology provide new options for learning, including online, remote, and virtual learning. This has been especially important during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Lifelong learning has become an economic imperative for workers and workplaces alike. A national trend is to expand school use to provide multipurpose functions within the community. Libraries have also become resource hubs for job seekers, offering resume development, support in navigating online job postings and applications, and skills training. They also offer support to businesses and remote workers by providing access to resources, databases, meeting spaces, equipment, and technology.
  • Living in an information era, libraries have become crucial to fostering information literacy and expanding beyond offering books to becoming third spaces, economic drivers, and partners in all levels of education in their communities.

WHAT IS CURRENTLY HAPPENING IN FALMOUTH

  • Falmouth Schools currently serve approximately 2,020 students and their families through programming for Kindergarten through grade 12.
    • The 98-acre school campus and grounds provide ready access for students to playing fields, the “stadium field” with artificial turf and 8-lane track, walking and cross-country trails, a sand volleyball court, and several greenhouses and gardens.  The campus also provides the opportunity for numerous outdoor learning spaces, which students and staff can access throughout the day for classes, exploration, and staff and club meeting spaces.
    • The benefits of having all school-aged children in Falmouth on a single campus includes greater ease of access for families, the ability to share grounds and facilities, and connection and collaboration across grade and content levels with staff members across the K-12 campus.  Affording the opportunity for all students to experience education at each grade together, rather than in separate schools, helps to insure a consistent delivery of instruction as well.  One campus also affords opportunities for HS students to engage with students at the lower grades through music, reading, and mentoring activities, to name but a few.
    • The Schools regularly invite all members of the community for events and activities including athletic competitions (such as Friday Night Football), Band and Chorus Concerts, and Theater performances.
    • In accordance with School Board Policy, the school facilities are available for free or at a low cost to community groups and organizations.  Members of the community and groups have access to the track, fields, playgrounds, gyms, classrooms, libraries, performance spaces, cafeterias, and classrooms throughout the school year and summer, when not otherwise used by the schools, through a simplified and online reservation system through Falmouth Community Programs.  Many local groups also use the facilities for fundraisers for charity or other non-profit supports (5K road races, Fall Classic Soccer Tournament, holiday concerts, education classes, booster groups, etc.).
    • The schools actively pursue partnerships with local businesses and not-for-profit organizations to provide students with service-learning opportunities, job shadows, and internships, and, in some cases, longer-term work agreements.
    • The district’s Farm to School Program (F2S) has a 2-year action plan that includes prioritizing community connections.  The F2S team views the greenhouses and gardens as a tremendous community resource.  As such, there are opportunities to further engage the Falmouth community across all ages.  Some Action Steps/ideas outlined in the F2S team’s Action Plan that are ongoing include:
      • Falmouth Schools Farm & Garden Learning Center
        • The school gardens have historically provided opportunities for the community including: produce donations to the food pantry, summer programming through camps, afterschool programming (clubs and through FCP), scouts (cub-, boy-, girl-) events, and opportunities for master gardeners to provide volunteer hours, FHS student community service hours, and educational YouTube videos.
        • The gardens and hoop house site offer the opportunity for community use and events. Some of these have included Open Garden Day, Movie nights, Cider and Pizza parties, Scavenger Hunts, and CSA pickup.
  • Falmouth Community Programs, based in the Mason-Motz Activity Center, offers additional learning opportunities for children and adults (including targeted senior programming).
    • After-school enrichment programs include options in the arts & sciences, nature-themed, outdoor adventures, and athletics.
    • Adult enrichment programs include international trips, learning to play musical instruments, athletics, and art & crafts.
    • Senior programs and services include social, wellness, and recreational opportunities including lunch & learn lectures, arts & crafts, museum excursions, tai chi, dance, meditation, and more. The Presumpscot Room at the Mason-Motz is dedicated to senior programming and a senior coordinator works directly with seniors to develop programming to suit their interests.
  • Falmouth Memorial Library offers additional learning opportunities for all ages. Lifelong learning is at the core of the library’s mission whether supporting students to extend their learning beyond the classroom, to providing programs and lectures on topics of local or academic interest, or to developing new skills for workers and business owners.
    • The library hosts hundreds of free programs annually from baby and pre-school story time to lectures, author talks, book groups, summer reading programs, and the Camden Conference an in-depth program focused on critical global challenges facing the world.
    • The library’s inter-library loan program provides broad access to books and other resources held in other institutions, including access and use of the databases and resources available via Digital Maine Library.
    • The library plays a key role in both providing hardware and high-speed Wi-Fi for those who might not have it or who lack convenient access. As part of the state-wide Maine School and Library Networkconsortium, the library’s internet and Wi-Fi access are rarely affected by local outages providing a reliable alternative to residents during emergencies.
    • The library provides one-on-one help with using technology as a tool for learning, helping patrons trouble-shoot their own devices to access books, databases, research, etc.
  • Several organizations offer additional learning opportunities in Falmouth, including:

WHAT THE COMMUNITY SURVEY RESULTS SHOW

  • Falmouth Community Survey participants were asked to indicate how important they believed the following community and social fabric topics will be in shaping the future of Falmouth. Using a scale of 1-3 (not important), 4-7 (neutral), and 8-10 (important)., below are the results:
    • Continued support for quality school education: 2% not important, 11% neutral, 88% important
    • Offering life-long learning opportunities: 10% not important, 36% neutral, 54% important
    • Fostering civic dialogue on key issues: 5% not important, 26% neutral, 69% important
    • Residents to be a part of key decision making: 1% not important, 16% neutral, 83% important
    • Continuously fostering new community leaders: 6% not important, 32% neutral, 62% important

CONSULTANT’S INSIGHTS and POTENTIAL TRADE-OFFS

  • Falmouth community residents have expressed strong support for lifelong learning. The notion of the community having a strong shared value around being a ‘learning community’ is an enticing possibility. Such a foundation could be the basis for innovative thinking to help solve some of the future challenges. 
  • To create or amplify a shared community value about learning would require a willingness to explore challenging topics and embrace new thinking. Fostering productive civic dialogue is an important element, where people can engage together in a constructive and respectful manner.
  • Seeking common understanding at a community level takes time. This will require patience as people absorb ideas and explore new approaches. This may challenge conventional wisdom or ideals. The evolution of community thinking, values and vision will take shared commitment and a willingness to find common ground.

We would love to hear your thoughts!

It appears that the Falmouth community highly values learning and aspires to provide learning opportunities for its residents at all stages of life.

How important is it for Falmouth to have a shared value about being ‘learning community’, and what would the community need to do to become a ‘laboratory of learning’ for all residents?
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7 Comments

Continued support for quality school education was the highest (88%) positive data point in the community and social fabric topics. It is clear that Falmouth has always had a strong shared value for excellence in our schools. We are so fortunate to have many Falmouth graduates still here, aging in place, others returning to raise their own families, and of course so many that hope to join our community for education. Our schools will continue to thrive with excellent leadership and caring staff.
I would love to see a laboratory of learning by connecting our diverse experienced, educated, innovative and caring community with the students in the schools. Our students could benefit from hearing real world job experiences and expectations, as well as just seeing different opportunities in our small town and big world. There are so many amazing stories to be told to inspire others, I hope we can find a way to highlight many voices in our near future.
I also think it is important to continue to offer learning experiences of all kinds to adults of every age in Falmouth. Community programs does a nice job with this, but I think we could look again at increasing opportunities.

I agree! As a current high school student who has gone through both the elementary and middle school, I have felt that I have had a great education. At the same time, more opportunities for students in the Falmouth schools to connect with other Falmouth residents for a combined learning opportunity would be great.

Educating our children is the primary Town objective! All efforts and expenditures should focus on that objective. Any community programs should be self funding – fees charged should cover the cost of the programs.

I was not sure where to put this thought – it could apply to many of the topics listed for discussion. Falmouth needs a public pool. Pools are community centers that provide residents and non-residents of all ages and abilities with access to therapeutic and health-sustaining benefits. A pool located on the school campus would be wonderful- students could walk to swim practice (or other classes – water safety etc). Having grown up in Cape Elizabeth that has a public pool like I am describing (which converted to saltwater and added a hot tub – lovely improvements), I am mystified by the lack of public pool in a community of this size and resources. Communities adjacent to Portland such as Cape, South Portland, Scarborough, Westbrook, and Cumberland all have public pools. People – disabled and non-disabled alike – of all ages would benefit from this community resource.

We fortunately raised our three daughters in Falmouth and saw them thrive in our well funded, respected, student-centered school school district. Thank you to all who have supported the school funding for those many years and continue to do so, even if there are no longer school-aged children in your homes. That is my current situation and I will still strongly support our annual school’s budget.

Having been involved as a public school administrator for 35 years in several communities in Southern Maine, I can attest to value of providing life-long learning opportunities for the adults in a community. It offers enriching ways for adults to connect with others and to stay connected to the school community as well. While I understand that Falmouth Community Programs provides some adult learning opportunities, I do feel that those could be expanded. They are usually self-supporting through user fees but should be made accessible to all, even for those that may need some financial assistance to do participate. Many courses can be offered at little or no costs as well.

I read in a previous post that there should be efforts made to build a community pool. I wholeheartedly support that idea for many of the same reasons that were noted before, especially the cross-generational use of such a facility.

Falmouth does not exist in a bubble: the challenges Maine, the US, and the world confront will also require local responses and actions. Such challenges include technological innovation and change, global warming and sea level rise, lack of affordable housing, and increasingly diverse populations. To effectively meet these challenges, all of us must become lifelong learners, and Falmouth must continue to build on the resources we already have to expand those opportunities. A community pool is an excellent way to expand learning opportunities for school children and to foster life-long health and fitness of all of our residents.

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MORE INFORMATION​

For more information about the Town of Falmouth Vision and Values project, please contact:

David Beurle, CEO
Future iQ
Phone: (612) 757-9190
david@future-iq.com

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