In February, our community will vote on a bond issue that would fund a very important renovation and upgrade of Walla Walla High School. If voters approve the bond issue, school officials will renovate a facility in desperate need of repair and modernization.
Designed and built nearly 50 years ago, many of Wa-Hi’s classrooms, science labs and aspects of the building infrastructure have fallen into disrepair.
To voters who oppose the proposed renovations believing that current students should learn in the same classroom spaces, labs and facilities as they themselves did years ago, I offer an alternative perspective drawing an analogy between changes in medicine over the past 50 years and the transformation of teaching and learning during the same period.
My father was a cardiologist who practiced in the 1960s, an era when portable defibrillators, stints, angioplasties and bypass operations did not exist. Open-heart surgery was in its earliest stages of development and was extremely risky.
Sadly, many of my father’s patients either died suddenly from heart attacks or never fully recovered from their heart disease. The tools and procedures of modern cardiology and cardiac care that now save thousands of lives each year and are accepted standards of medical care could have saved many of my father’s patients had they been available.
Would any of us with heart disease now be satisfied if our attending physicians relied on the tools of cardiac care available to my father’s patients in the 1960s?
No, of course not. Why then would any of us be satisfied with the technology, labs, facilities and learning spaces of the 1960s for the education of our children or grandchildren? We mustn’t.
In 1963, Wa-Hi’s buildings and classrooms met the highest standards of secondary education for school facilities across the country.
Since that time, funding for facility improvements has lapsed and we have witnessed profound changes in the ways educators teach and the manner in which students learn. Advances in technology have changed teaching in many fields as access to information on almost any subject can be obtained with a few clicks on a computer.
Further, knowledge in many fields, particularly the sciences, has advanced dramatically with the advent of new approaches and tools for study in fields like biology, chemistry, and physics.
Student learning in our high schools and colleges is also shifting from simply acquiring knowledge in subject areas to applying this knowledge in identifying and solving problems that range from reducing environmental pollution to developing alternative sources of energy. Active, engaged learning focusing on problems is replacing the passive learning that many older adults experienced in their high school years.
As teaching and learning advances, so must our schools and teaching facilities.
Wa-Hi students need learning environments that enable them to prepare effectively for college and the futures they face in the workforce. Many Wa-Hi graduates will seek jobs and careers that require the ability to understand and use technology effectively, to learn in science labs where the equipment and spaces meet the current standards of disciplines like biology, chemistry, physics and computer science.
This bond issue bears careful consideration by voters for these and other reasons.
Much more is at stake than simply renovating the school’s learning spaces, classrooms and facilities. Investing in our schools and their infrastructure will pay dividends that extend across our community. Strong, well-funded schools attract businesses and talented workers. Employers move to communities with excellent schools largely because the schools enable them to recruit exceptional employees and their families.
By investing in Wa-Hi’s campus and the planned renovations, we will significantly improve Walla Walla’s reputation as a community where talented people and employers want to reside.
Our vote on the bond issue also represents a very powerful demonstration of our support for the teachers in our public schools and the strength of our commitment to their important work with our children and grandchildren. As a parent whose son and daughter recently graduated from Wa-Hi, I can attest to the remarkable and dedicated efforts of the teachers despite the difficult classroom conditions in which many currently work.
One of the most powerful ways to strengthen and advance a community is to invest in its children and their education.
I understand the pressing needs for improving Wa-Hi’s facilities given the profoundly positive effects that strong schools and modern facilities have on entire communities.
We would not expect anyone in our community to seek or accept the standards of medical care practiced the 1960s. We shouldn’t accept school facilities that were built according to equally antiquated standards of teaching and learning.
George Bridges is president of Whitman College. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org