A Little Good News: The Wentworth Learning Centre 

This is the start of a new series at Maritime Love, called A Little Good News.  In the series, I’ll tell stories about positive things happening around the region.  Because, frankly, we could all use a little more good news.  My first A Little Good News story is on a subject very close to my heart: rural schools.

In June of 2015, the Chignecto-Central Regional School Board voted to uphold the decision to close Wentworth Consolidated Elementary, along with Maitland District Elementary and River John Consolidated, after rejecting their hub school proposals.  The communities were obviously devastated by the closures.  They fought, and continue to fight to keep their schools a part of their communities.

I grew up in the next village over from Wentworth and while I did not attend this school, I’ve visited many times and I know the toll that a school closure has both on the students and the community.  It can be very hard on kids to adjust to a new, often much larger school many kilometers away; their grades often suffer because of it.  On the community the effect can be even more drastic.  When a school closes, a community’s centre of gravity is lost, leaving it’s members unsteady and unsure of where the next step lies. Many families will move, simply to be closer to school and after school activities.  The remaining community struggles to maintain solidarity, without the school as a rallying point.

The people of Wentworth refused to give up and because of the hard work of some very committed members of the community, they have just announced that in September of 2017, they will be reopening the school as a “P-3, independent, not-for-profit, community governed and community maintained facility“.  And starting May 1, 2016, they will also offer “commercial space available for rent to encourage small business ventures and give owners affordable space to grow“.

To get the full scoop on the project I called on an old friend, Nathan Patriquin, who is the Vice President of the Wentworth Learning Centre Cooperative Ltd, the group that is overseeing the project and will be responsible for the Centre’s operation.  The Centre will not be affiliated with any local school board, instead relying on an ongoing fundraising campaign to raise the funds necessary for it’s operation.  He tells me that they are also accepting proposals from certified daycare providers and are marketing the almost 1500 sq ft of remaining available space as a “business incubator to encourage new entrepreneurs to pursue their ideas“.  When asked how the community has received the project, he tells me that while cautiously optimistic at first, the community is encouraged by the progress that has been made as the project gains momentum.

I congratulate the people of Wentworth on their commitment to providing local education for their children and for fighting so hard for their community.  It is exactly this kind of innovative thinking that will keep our rural Maritime communities alive and help them prosper into the future.

If you would like to learn more about the learning centre or are interested in renting space, please visit their Facebook page Wentworth Learning Centre.

Wentworth School

 

 

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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!