Fewer students, fewer schools
September brings mixed emotions as students return to class
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,
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.