My son Alex, who is 16 years old and just starting year 11, attends Hurlstone Agricultural School. It’s a school that’s been around for over 100 years, and has a couple of features that make it a fairly unique place to go to school.
For a start, it’s a state-run government school, but it also happen to be a boarding school. There are, to the best of my knowledge, only two government boarding schools in all of NSW. Secondly, it’s an academically selective school. This means that for most students to attend the school they have to have a proven track record of academic achievement and some evidence that they are relatively bright. Thirdly, and perhaps the thing that makes it most unique, is that it is an agricultural school. As such, it offers mandatory (up to year 10) courses in agriculture, and the school is located on 276 acres of beautiful rolling farmland. It is, in fact, a fully working farm, complete with a commercial dairy, as well as raising cattle, chickens, sheep, pigs and other assorted animals.
The boarding school exists because, as an ag school, it provides study options for country kids who live on farms in remote areas of the state. They come to the big city, live in the boarding house and learn all about agriculture and farming at the school, so they can take this knowledge back to the family farm.
As you might imagine, this mix of city kids and country kids, along with the fact that it is academically selective, makes it a pretty special place to go to school.
It seems the state government wants to change all that. Late last year, under the leadership of Premier Nathan Rees, the government announced that it plans to sell off the farm land for housing in 2011. The school community is obviously not too happy about the idea, and there is a lot of political noise being made at at the moment to try and convince the government that this is a bad idea. Angry parents are mobilising themselves with letter-writing campaigns, complaining to local politicians, trying to make enough noise about it that the decision will be rescinded. We can only hope that common sense will prevail in the end and the stupidity of the decision to lose the school’s greatest asset will be revoked, although what with politicians being politicians, it might be difficult to beat the lure of the almighty dollar.
It’s ironic that the term “selling the farm” is often used as a metaphor for failing to value your most essential assets, but in this case the government is quite literally “selling the farm”, dairy and all. It is land that will never be able to be replaced, greedily sold to make a profit at the expense of providing a unique and important educational facility.
Without the farm, the school will be nothing. It needs to be saved. I’ve written a number of letters to politicians about this, but their response has been less than impressive. If you are reading this and want to assist, I’d encourage you to write to one of our NSW politicians. Tell them, politely but strongly, what a stupid idea this is and how it will ruin the character of a truly unique school. (Remember that when you write to politicians that email counts for very little, and a real letter on real paper with a real stamp is taken notice of far more than electronic correspondence.) There is also a Save Hurlstone Facebook group you can join if you’d like to do that.
The other thing that took me by surprise yesterday was finding out that Alex had worked with some of his friends at school to produce a short video about why the farm needs to be saved, which was then posted to YouTube. I’m surprised because he never mentioned it to me at all and I found out quite by accident. The film, titled Pro Patria (the school motto, meaning “For my country”) is about 8 minutes long and does a great job of explaining, from a students’ perspective, why the farm is so important and why it should be saved. It’s a wonderful example of how students can use social media tools like YouTube to have a voice. I’d encourage you to watch it, and spread it around to people you know. The more times it gets watched, the better, if for no other reason than letting our politicians know that people are taking an interest in this issue. If you can, leave a comment on the YouTube page as well.
I know that YouTube is a contentious issue in many schools, often banned because of the potential problems it might cause. But this is a great example of how students have used YouTube for good rather than evil, using it to have a real voice and to express an opinion about an issue they obviously care deeply about.