Ode to the Rural Schoolhouse

I was born and raised in rural Nova Scotia.  In a tiny village you’d be hard pressed to find on any map.  I went to one of those rural schoolhouses, the kind from a Lucy Maud Montgomery novel.  The same one that both my maternal grandparents were taught in.  The same one that some of their parents were taught in.  Originally a one-room schoolhouse, a second room was later built, stacked on top of the first.  Grades primary, 1, 2 and 3 were taught downstairs; grades 4, 5 and 6 were taught upstairs.  We had two teachers for all seven grades and a music teacher who drove in from the next town a couple times a week to teach music class.  There was a little playground outside, with two swing sets, monkey bars, a slide and a couple of teeter-totters.  We had gym class outside when we could and when the weather was poor, we moved our desks to the side of the room so we could have gym inside.

The school was pretty busy at one time, but in my time there weren’t as many kids around.  Enrollment was down.  People weren’t having as many kids anymore and a lot of people were moving to larger towns and cities to find work.  Until grade 3, I was the only member of my class (I won all the year-end awards!).  After I graduated grade 4, they shut the school down to save money and bused us an hour into the next town to go to school.  It was hard for me to adjust to such a “big” school and a new curriculum with so many kids I didn’t know.  I struggled to find my place that school year.

Some of my favourite childhood memories are from my time at that little schoolhouse: epic King of the Mountain contests, making a lifelong friend with one trip around the schoolyard, reading challenges where each book represented a paper scoop on a paper cone on the wall, biking to and from school in the warm spring sun.  There is something so pure and idyllic about being taught within your community, with other kids from that same community, by members of the community.  I think it really fosters community spirit and pride, something that seems to be missing from the mega-schools so many of our kids are being educated in today.

It feels special to be a part of something that no longer exists.  People seem genuinely surprised when I tell them I was taught in a two-room schoolhouse.  As if I also used to ride unicorns across rainbows.  Our school is now used to train local firefighters but I know so many stand unused, doting the countryside like abandoned sentinels of our youth.  Someday ours may be gone, torn down because no one wants to pay for the upkeep of the building.  I hope to never see that day.

If you have a story about a rural schoolhouse you attended, I’d love to hear about it!

18 thoughts on “Ode to the Rural Schoolhouse

  1. Sue H April 6, 2015 / 9:28 am

    Nestled in between Middleton and Bridgetown in the beautiful Annapolis Valley is the village of Paradise, it looks just like it sounds. In that village is the old Paradise school, one of the last ones to close in 1979, I was in grade three. Mrs Currie was my teacher for my two years there, she was the only teacher. Before I lived there it had been two room with her husband teaching there as well. (Now teaching in a small school with my husband, I empathize!). There were 14 of us, myself and one boy in my grade. I don’t remember much of how she organized the curriculum but I do remember how happy I was there. One big open classroom, a beautiful building and great yard to play in with the standard swings, monkey bars and teeter totters plus a ball field AND a brook with frogs! It was the gathering place for kids outside of school hours as well! 🙂

  2. Melissa April 6, 2015 / 10:29 am

    What a beautiful building! Thank you for sharing your rural schoolhouse story!

  3. Peggy April 6, 2015 / 4:23 pm

    I am the youngest of 5 children who had opportunity to go through primary to 6 at the Westchester school. Also I know that my father attended that school so that takes back many generations. Even at the start of primary there were three of us in the grade eventually when l got to grade 6 we did have another student join us. I enjoyed the small amount of children who attended the school at the same time I did and leaving that school to start grade 7 at Oxford Regional High School was very overwhelming and I was scared but one thing that I remember is being told by almost every grade 7 teacher that my elementary school brought in the smartest students. We used to be ahead grade 7 of what they were learning I guess our grade 6 teacher made sure that we knew what we were doing when we got there.I have so many memories good memories of my school years there.I know that class pictures still hang on the walls or they did the last time I was in. it’s not always great did see the old pictures of yourself make fun of your other classmates how they look make fun of yourself how you looked but I am very proud to walk in there and see pictures all my siblings hanging there for everyone to come in and look at. I hope that the school never gets torn down never falls down. Westchester is a little small village but filled with the greatest people and the people that have left carry on their traditions and most always have to go back at least to have a look. I for one like driving back through stopping to have a swing and see that some things never change. Xoxo…..thx Melissa

    • Melissa April 6, 2015 / 4:54 pm

      Thanks, Peggy! So great to hear everyone’s stories from this special place!

  4. Rayne April 6, 2015 / 9:21 pm

    My Grandmother went to this school in Westchester! It’s incredible to see a place with so much history. Thank you so much for this.

    • Melissa April 6, 2015 / 9:27 pm

      Thank you for your comment! It certainly does have a lot of history and everyone who went there is so proud of it!

      • Shelley Lynn Patriquin April 7, 2015 / 2:40 pm

        The local school was a central and integral part of our Village for so long, you’d be hard pressed to find someone in the community today, that doesn’t have a direct link to the school, or perhaps attended it personally.

        My Grandmother Campbell, formerly Mable Cummings, attended our local, then one-room school, as did her siblings, acquiring grades primary through 12 in those days. Grandmother achieved excellence in Trigonometry in grade 11, and was recognized with an award, an unheard of ability and accomplishment for a young lady of her era!!! I recall her telling numerous stories from her years in attendance there, most of which were happy times for her, with a few exceptions of course. She disliked the required dress code, being that of white cotton blouses and heavy abrasive grey wool skirts for the girls, with the boys in similar dress of crisp white collared shirts and wool trousers, all items hand-sewn and handed down from eldest to youngest as necessary. Also, her older brothers Floyd and Roy, would occasionally detour from attendance and require her to neglect telling her parents of their deceit. She did not take kindly to their demands, as she took her education and attendance in school very seriously. Grandmother told me numerous times of how she was teased/bullied regularly by her brothers for being a Teacher’s pet and “book worm”, but her dedication and perseverance paid off in later years when she was able to attend “The Normal College” in Bible Hill to earn a certificate and become a Teacher herself.

        My Father, Orland Webb, and his siblings, as well as my husband Rodger Patriquin and his siblings, were all students of our local school over the years. My husband and i were also fortunate enough to have our two daughters Tracey, and Tara-Lynn in attendance there, where we feel they could not have received a better educational or community oriented foundation upon which to build.

        We lived close by, and our girls as well as numerous other children walked to school together in large groups, and elders of the community called daily greetings and commonalities to them on their way. In our little Village, everyone was a true neighbor, and there was never a worry that our children were not safe, as we all looked out for one another. I routinely walked to the school to visit the children during their lunch hour, and would occasionally supervise the playground, as did several other local parents. Community organizations even raised funds to sponsor a local French teacher, for our children, giving our students a definite advantage that most other small schools did not have at the time. Another part-time teacher at our little school taught the children sign language, an art and skill that many of them still remember and use all these years later. Such fond memories of what our community once was, because we had our own little school. To say we had something “special” is an understatement!!!

        The school was the center of our community, a pillar from which all else there evolved. Local sports teams, numerous other events, organizations and social groups, all gained their origins due to the school and the community’s need and desire to support their youth. Our organizations fought tirelessly and vigorously for our school, but like many other small communities, our battle was eventually lost.

        Oh we lost SO much more than just a little two-room school house!!! Our seniors lost touch with our youth, as they no longer had the pleasure of seeing the local children on a daily basis. Except for an occasional wave as the big yellow bus rolled through Westchester, the generations that had held so much respect for each other, were suddenly lost to them, and the gap only widened with time. One by one, organizations were no longer necessary, and many social networks became lost in the shuffle. No, we didn’t just lose our little two-room school; we lost a way of life, a community network that grew and thrived with the children of yesterday. We still have stories to pass on of our little Village school, stories that won’t fade with time, We’ll always maintain our pride; pride of what we had, and what our small community accomplished for all those years, and that pride will live on long after the building is gone.

      • Melissa April 7, 2015 / 4:40 pm

        Thank you, Shelley! I didn’t know that Nanny Campbell and Papa both went there! Thanks for sharing your memories!

  5. Sandra (Kirby) Sewell November 5, 2015 / 3:15 pm

    I feel like you wrote my story. I am so sorry for the kids today who never get to experience the small village lifestyle. Our little schoolhouse was in Tidnish Bridge, NS. I loved my teachers! We got to ice skate in our pond at recess in the winter. The school was the meeting place for the community to play Auction 45, a card game that involved everyone. I felt so grown up when I got to play with the adults. We sure didn’t have smart phones, computers and a lot of us had no TV either…or even cars. We used to ride with the postman to town for $.50. We were bused to a high school 13 miles away in Amherst for my 7th grade….I remember catching strep throat, measles, chicken pox and every thing I had not been exposed to before in my 7th grade….still, I consider myself very fortunate to have` lived that lifestyle. We were all pretty poor, but we didn’t know it! That’s the best memories to have!
    Thank you so much for taking me down a very lovely memory lane.

    • Melissa Smith November 5, 2015 / 4:24 pm

      Thank you so much for telling your rural schoolhouse story! I feel that it’s important to tell these stories so they don’t get lost in time. Thanks for reading!

  6. David Langille November 5, 2015 / 8:38 pm

    Funny some of the childhood memories we can recall as if they happened yesterday. I was four in 1961 and brother Frank was five. I remember crying as he went to his first day of school there, and I wanted to go too! Grampie lighting the furnace every morning, “primmer” one, two and three downstairs, four, five and six upstairs. Making Expo flags in 1967. Everyone remember the song? The “film man” coming every once or twice a year…I still have my report cards! +98 on most grades…lol…could have been because aunt was teacher downstairs and uncle principle upstairs? Best years of my life…

    • Melissa Smith November 5, 2015 / 9:10 pm

      Thanks for sharing. It seems everyone loved their time at that school!

  7. Sandra (Kirby) Sewell November 6, 2015 / 8:50 am

    ….I hope all of these stories will someday be printed in a book for all of us ex-pat Nova Scotians….

    • Melissa Smith November 6, 2015 / 9:27 am

      Wouldn’t that be great!

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