CommUnity Coffee: A Discussion on Commercial Free Schools

Written by Peter. Posted in Education

About once a month, the CommUnity comes together for coffee  after the school wide morning meeting.  Lately, the meetup has evolved into curated discussions about various topics related to our school.  This past week, I was able to attend  the discussion about adopting a policy to make Unity a “Commercial Free School”. Commercial Free Schools are schools that  “adopt policies that assure positive public school- private sector relationships, and guard against commercial partnerships that require school districts to advertise as a condition for receiving funds, products, materials or equipment.”  (http://www.ibiblio.org/commercialfree/policies.html) I have to admit, when I first heard this idea, I thought, “Why would we tie our hands this way?”  We are a small community—only 135 families.   Our size limits us to a finite number of volunteers as well as a finite number of customers.  The bottom-line of some of these fundraisers make them very enticing when you compare them with more “home grown” efforts.  As a newbie at Unity last year, the bottom line was all I looked at. On the other hand, this school is already considerably less commercial than other schools; accepting a “Commercial Free School” designation could further promote our mission without changing much of what we do.  I’ve gotten to know the community building events as inherently  “Unity experiences”: the Hoopla Basketball game; the used book sale; the Halloween costume exchange; the student-run movie nights.  Not all even turn a profit, but they do turn heads—and contribute greatly to the “Unity vibe”. What would it look like if we shifted the goal of our volunteer efforts from financial benchmarks to community building goals? I started to see how the benefits might reach deeper and more meaningfully into the classroom. As a group we brainstormed what a year would look like without commercial fund raisers.  Could the school budget allocate a line for the Parents Association instead of requiring it to raise its own funds?  Could we be more focused on community building activities and less on selling?  Would our CommUnity respond to a “commercial free” appeal, which would explain that we were not going to sell products this year, but instead ask for donations that would go 100% to the school? While the Community Coffee is far from a decision making committee, it was interesting to hear from the members of our community how they felt about different fundraisers at school.  I really got a chance to hear from many perspectives in a respectful, thoughtful environment.  It reminded me of what a unique school we are—even the adults are involved in Democratic Governance in action, working together to improve our school and community.   Stacy Havens for UnityStacy Havens is a parent of a 1st grader and a 3rd grader at Unity and a member of the Communications Committee.  She enjoys photography, design, and food prepared by others.

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