Fewer stu­dents, fewer schools

Septem­ber brings mixed emo­tions as stu­dents re­turn to class

Cape Breton Post - - News Glace Bay/New Waterford & Area - Jeremy Fraser Where the Whis­tle Blows Jeremy Fraser is a re­porter for the Cape Bre­ton Post and has lived in New Water­ford all his life. His monthly col­umn “Where the Whis­tle Blows” will fea­ture the past, the present and the fu­ture of New Water­ford and sur

We’ve all heard these sto­ries hun­dreds of times. The sto­ries our par­ents, grand­par­ents and great grand­par­ents have told us of walk­ing long dis­tances to school ev­ery morn­ing, or climb­ing over record-set­ting snow banks to make it to class be­cause school was never can­celled in those days.

Have you heard those sto­ries be­fore? I know I have.

Times have cer­tainly changed in the school sys­tem since our par­ents, grand­par­ents and great grand­par­ents were in the class­room. Some would say it’s changed for the bet­ter, while others would ar­gue it hasn’t changed for the bet­ter at all.

No mat­ter which side you be­lieve, one thing that has changed for sure, es­pe­cially in the New Water­ford and sur­round­ing com­mu­nity, is the num­ber of schools the area has. Of course, in the days of our grand­par­ents and great grand­par­ents there were more chil­dren and the pop­u­la­tion in the New Water­ford and sur­round­ing area was larger, which led to there be­ing more schools to han­dle the amount of stu­dents at­tend­ing classes.

In those days there were many schools across the com­mu­nity, in­clud­ing Mount Carmel, St. Agnes, Cen­tral, Scotch­town and New Vic­to­ria to just name a few, all of whom hold spe­cial mem­o­ries and pride to our par­ents.

Many still re­mem­ber when Cen­tral, Scotch­town and New Vic­to­ria held their fi­nal classes, the pain that was felt through­out the com­mu­nity and is still heard to­day, but for those who at­tended Mount Carmel and St. Agnes schools, the heart­break of these schools clos­ing is still fresh in many minds.

April 12, 2016 is a day many in the New Water­ford com­mu­nity will never for­get. On this day, the com­mu­nity re­ceived the news res­i­dents weren’t hop­ing to hear.

De­spite the best ef­fort of the New Water­ford Fam­ily of Schools com­mit­tee, the Cape Bre­ton-Vic­to­ria Re­gional School Board voted at a meet­ing to close 17 schools at the end of the 201516 school year, which in­cluded Mount Carmel and St. Agnes in New Water­ford.

It was dev­as­tat­ing news for the com­mu­nity. It was news many knew was com­ing, but it still came faster than ex­pected. The New Water­ford Fam­ily of Schools com­mit­tee had rec­om­mended the school board per­ma­nently close both Mount Carmel and St. Agnes, but not un­til 2017 at the ear­li­est, which many were hop­ing would be the case, how­ever it wasn’t.

With the de­ci­sion made, the process for plan­ning for the 2016-17 school year be­gan. All stu­dents from Mount Carmel and St. Agnes would be moved to Green­field El­e­men­tary School in River Ryan.

In an at­tempt to make ev­ery­one feel wel­come in the “new” school, the com­mit­tee rec­om­mended the name of Green­field be changed to re­flect the com­ing to­gether of the three schools fol­low­ing the Mount Carmel and St. Agnes clo­sures. The new name would be de­cided by the stu­dents by a vote.

In June 2016, the school board changed the name of Green­field to New Water­ford El­e­men­tary School, a de­ci­sion that would come into ef­fect on Aug. 1, 2016. The de­ci­sion didn’t go over well with lo­cal res­i­dents in Scotch­town and River Ryan, those sid­ing said the name didn’t go with the school, con­sid­er­ing the school isn’t tech­ni­cally in New Water­ford, but in River Ryan.

As Septem­ber rolled around, stu­dents made their way back to the class­room at “New Water­ford El­e­men­tary School.” The school year be­gan with a rocky start with bus is­sues caus­ing many par­ents to once again ques­tion the de­ci­sion to close Mount Carmel and St. Agnes schools when they did.

If that wasn’t bad enough, many con­tin­ued to ques­tion the name of the school, just like in June of that year, which led to more anger among a com­mu­nity al­ready torn by the over­all de­ci­sion.

Af­ter count­less dis­cus­sions, let­ters and emails to the school board by lo­cal res­i­dents, the school board made the de­ci­sion to change the name back to Green­field El­e­men­tary School at a sched­uled meet­ing on Oct. 24, 2016, in New Water­ford, much to the plea­sure of those 60-plus com­mu­nity mem­bers who at­tended the meet­ing.

With the name fi­nally de­cided and the bus is­sues re­solved, things be­gan to im­prove, stu­dents and the com­mu­nity ac­cepted the fact that there would only be one el­e­men­tary school in the New Water­ford and sur­round­ing area.

The 2016-17 school year marked the first year all el­e­men­tary school stu­dents in the com­mu­nity were un­der the same roof. The school year over­all was con­sid­ered a suc­cess as stu­dents be­came more fa­mil­iar with each other and the school in gen­eral, which should make the tran­si­tion back to the class­room eas­ier this year for New Water­ford area young­sters.

To­day, the com­mu­nity only has two schools in op­er­a­tion, that be­ing Green­field El­e­men­tary and Bre­ton Ed­u­ca­tion Cen­tre, the mid­dle school/high school. Mount Carmel re­mains boarded up, with ru­mours the for­mer school will be torn down in the near fu­ture to make way for a new health care cen­tre, promised

by the Lib­eral gov­ern­ment. The same can’t be said for St. Agnes school. Sadly the for­mer school burned in a fire, de­stroy­ing the struc­ture in May and was later com­pletely torn down.

As a per­son who at­tended Green­field dur­ing my el­e­men­tary school years many years ago, it’s still hard try­ing to wrap my head around the fact that all el­e­men­tary school stu­dents are in one school. When I went to school, I had friends in all three schools, in­clud­ing Mount Carmel and St. Agnes, and we use to joke around with each other about which school was bet­ter, and we’d al­ways agree the fi­nal de­ci­sion would come down to who had the bet­ter sports teams. Of course we look back now and re­al­ize all three schools were spe­cial in their own way.

De­spite stu­dents al­ready be­ing at Green­field El­e­men­tary School for a year and Mount Carmel and St. Agnes hav­ing be­ing closed for over a year, for some it’s still not easy see­ing their chil­dren and grand­chil­dren not at­tend­ing the schools they once at­tended as chil­dren, with some want­ing their chil­dren to share the same mem­o­ries of those two schools that they had.

Un­for­tu­nately, with the pop­u­la­tion in the com­mu­nity de­creas­ing each year, it was only a mat­ter of time be­fore Mount Carmel and St. Agnes would close, lead­ing to hav­ing one el­e­men­tary school in the area. These stu­dents now at Green­field will make their own mem­o­ries of school, and one day they will share the mem­o­ries with their chil­dren, who may also at­tend Green­field in the fu­ture,

who knows?

Although the new school year ev­ery Septem­ber will bring mixed emo­tions for stu­dents, par­ents and grand­par­ents for years to come, one thing is cer­tain, the mem­o­ries made at Mount Carmel and St. Agnes will last a life­time, just like the mem­o­ries to­day’s chil­dren will have of their days at Green­field.

For all stu­dents, make the most of your school years, don’t wish them away, be­cause one day you will be stand­ing on a stage at grad­u­a­tion, ac­cept­ing your diploma and plan­ning the rest of your life, won­der­ing where the time went and re­flect­ing on all the mem­o­ries of your school years. Trust me, it will hit you all at once.

It cer­tainly did for me.

St. Agnes El­e­men­tary School in New Water­ford closed af­ter the 2015-16 school year with stu­dents mov­ing to Green­field El­e­men­tary School in River Ryan. The va­cant school was de­stroyed by fire on May 28.

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