Nathan Howard: The Dome School - uniquely rural Oregon

Nestled in dense forest just north of the California border, and created by back-to-the-land pioneers over 40 years ago, The Dome School faces its latest challenge - COVID-19

Cofounder & President at East Fork Cultivars; Advisor to various political campaigns and candidates; Member of Boards of Directors at various Oregon-based organizations.

A unique school in a unique community

For more than 40 years The Dome School and the Takilma Community Building (TCB) have been at the heart of the Takilma community, educating generations of children and supporting the area. In addition to operating a preschool, kindergarten, and elementary school, the TCB has served as a gathering space and local event center, nestled in the woods approximately nine miles south of Cave Junction.

Community-funded and operated, the Dome School is no stranger to tough times. The organization has overcome many hurdles—both cultural and financial—over the decades. But the prolonged, pandemic-induced school closure has left the organization and community center fighting to stay afloat. 

On Giving Tuesday last week, supporters of the Dome School launched a GoFundMe campaign to help it survive this period and open back up when it’s able. Since the campaign went live just a few days ago, 32 people from across Josephine County and the country have contributed, raising $3,465 of the $22,500 goal.

The rapid and generous response is not surprising, but it is welcomed. “Not only is the Dome School a beloved and highly effective educational institution, it is the glue that holds together this 50-year-old, close-knit community,” said Kate Dwyer, Takilma resident, board member of the Takilma Community Association, and former board president of Three Rivers School District.

This is a community in every sense of the word.

Through ups and, especially this year, downs, Oregonians in Takilma have been there for one another. Though the school and buildings have been closed, the community of people the school has created over the years was still able to unite during the recent Slater Fire. Volunteers from around the area stepped up to cook, feed, and support the brave fire crews and community volunteers that worked tirelessly to keep Josephine County safe.

In the past, this sort of gathering would have occurred to make sure that the school and the community center could continue to thrive. Residents know that the services provided by the TCB and lessons learned in the school extend beyond the building’s walls.

“The Dome School is a vital part of our community and history. It's where we teach our kids and come together as a community. The school relies on tuition and community fundraisers to survive financially,” said Jennifer Folkerts, whose 6-year-old daughter attends the school and is eager to return.  

The Dome School has not been able to run most of its annual fundraisers that would normally keep the school solvent. If these were “normal times,” the school would receive support through fundraisers like the Dome of the Dead Halloween fundraiser in the Fall, proceeds from the Women's Cafe in the Spring and the Winter Bazaar, plus various building rentals. But, these are not such times; so, financial needs are high.

“We need to do everything we can,” urged Folkerts, “to support the Dome School during this pandemic - so there’s still a school for our kids to return to.”

Saving the community’s heart

From the beginning, the school and the TCB have united and strengthened the Takilma community.

The school, housed in a dome structure, began in 1975 as a home schooling collective. In 1976, the school was incorporated as a 501(c)3 non-profit organization. In 1979, the need for a larger and more permanent facility brought the community together to build the school’s present building, known locally as the Takilma Community Building.

The present structure is a multi-purpose building located on eight acres of community-owned land. The forested location provides a relaxed, natural atmosphere and many opportunities for science, nature studies, and recreation.

Parent and community involvement has always been integral to the functioning of the school. To be a part of the rhythm of the day is an enriching experience for both parent and child. The teachers integrate the interests of the children, the parents, and the community volunteers to create a unique curriculum each year.

The Dome School and the TCB are the sort of institutions we so desperately need in an era of fragmentation. In the isolation of a remote community, they create unity. In a region that’s experienced tough economic times, they have created social capital. In the Internet age, they have reminded us of the importance of personal connection.

I’m proud to be among those supporting the Dome School. Its presence in Takilma is essential and its lessons for the rest of Oregon are invaluable.

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The Dome School’s fundraiser campaign can be found at: https://charity.gofundme.com/o/en/campaign/the-dome-school

Photos of the Dome School can be found at: https://photos.app.goo.gl/YdnxFpse2XYp9YAe9

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