Brian Mittge Commentary: When the Community Becomes the School


Starting in September, students will be released 90 minutes early from the public schools in Chehalis every Wednesday so teachers have new dedicated collaboration time. 

This will match an existing schedule in Centralia. 

I’m told this is a new trend in education.

I’m not a huge fan.

I love the idea of teachers having dedicated collaboration time, but not at the expense of students losing a total of more than six full school days over the course of the year. I know that having students released 90 minutes early every Wednesday will also create a child care challenge for many parents. 

I said all that publicly, but I lost that battle. The schedule has been set in the union contract and won’t be changed. 

However, sometimes a loss creates a great opportunity. 

To its credit, the Chehalis School Board and administration have pulled together volunteers to look at how community resources could provide educational activities on Wednesday afternoons. They offered space in the old Olympic Elementary School for community groups if they want to hold classes or activities. 

The goal would be for the school district to have a list of activities and resources as options for parents to consider enrolling their kids in on Wednesday afternoons. (This would be an alternative to kids coming home on the bus or being picked up 90 minutes early.)

Several volunteers in that committee (I’m one of them) have been reaching out to groups and institutions, looking at whether they might want to be involved.

The response has been really interesting and inspiring. 

A month ago, I talked to members of the Chehalis Rotary Club, who had great ideas on providing life skills classes — budgeting and personal finance, baking, sewing, even home repairs. 

Individual Rotarians stepped up to volunteer. Chehalis Rotary Club President Martha Hunt confessed that she has always dreamed of teaching home economics. She’s already cooking up ideas.

When told that the aged school’s electrical system might not support the draw of heavy equipment (during a discussion of possibly offering shop classes), logger and Rotarian Rod Meade said he would just set up a generator outside to power it. 

“Hell, that’s what we do up in the woods,” he said. 

At that moment, I knew this really could happen. Lewis County’s get ‘er done mentality can overcome any obstacle. 

Last week, I had an even bigger boost to my hopes when Kyle Rasmussen, my pastor at Bethel Church, told me they want to bring back a new version of the Bethel School of the Arts (which previously ran for several years in Centralia) each Wednesday afternoon at Olympic School. 

He’s talking about classes in fine arts, piano, drums, guitar and choir, with students from the different classes coming together for frequent worship concerts. He’s reaching out to church members and retired local teachers to be instructors.

He also wants to offer a Bible quiz competition. (Since this is not a school-sponsored activity and the church would be leasing surplus space in the old school, it is perfectly legal and appropriate for Bethel to offer education with a faith component.)

There’s no reason, by the way, that homeschool kids couldn’t take part in these offerings. 

Rasmussen said Bethel is also willing to consider serving as an umbrella organization to host community members, like the Rotarians, who would offer their own classes. 

All teachers would go through background checks, of course, with organizational structure to ensure student safety.

I reached out to the Chehalis Timberland Regional Library, which in response is looking at moving its youth and teen events to Wednesday afternoons. 

My mind is crackling with ideas for ways community members each Wednesday afternoon could work together to augment the education our kids are getting in school. 

Earlier this week, I talked to Centralia Rotary about this, and a question there brought to mind that Centralia schools have had this early release for several years. 

Could there be similar community-led educational enrichment in the Hub City for those students on their early release days? Could the Twin Cities collaborate in some way?

The possibilities are endless. All we need are volunteers. 

If you are intrigued, drop me a line.

Where need meets inspiration, fueled by good folks working together, great things can happen.

We have a rare opportunity to offer parents some unique new educational experiences for the children of the Twin Cities. 

I’m excited. 

If you are too, let’s talk. 


Brian Mittge is a proud Chehalis School District graduate and parent. Contact him at