While school populations have been on the decline in nearly all areas of Newfoundland and Labrador in the past number of years, this trend is especially true in outport parts of the province.
One of those schools that has seen a sharp decline in its enrollment is St. Peter’s All Grade in McCallum, which is down to 10 students in the 2012-2013 school year.
The school’s individual grade count is: Kindergarten, 2; grades 3, 6,7, 9, 10 and 11, 1 each and there are two students in Level 111 or grade 12.
There are no students in grades 1, 2, 4, 5 and 8.
Guy Nash has been the principal at St. Peter’s since 1994 and has one other full time teacher and a three-quarter position on staff with him today.
Nash said that while some people may think it’s great to have two and three-quarter units for just 10 students, people need to remember that the staff has to offer all the courses required by the provincial curriculum for all the grades.
He said that St. Peter’s offers a full course program and that students graduate from the school with 40 credits, four more than the required 36 credits by the provincial Department of Education.
Small schools in rural and remote Newfoundland can offer students all the graduation requirements thanks to the provincial Department of Education’s Centre for Distance Learning and Innovation (CDLI).
Centre for Distance Learning and Innovation
Nash said that the CDLI program is a great advantage for the students at St. Peter’s.
The CDLI initiative is basically a program where students in a small school like St. Peter’s can take courses like advanced math, physics and chemistry, from a teacher, who could be based in St. John’s, Gander, Stephenville, Corner Brook or some other part of the province. The students receive the instructions through the Internet in online classes, do the assigned work and exams during offline classes and then receive a grade from the program.
The Level 1, 11 and 111 students at St. Peter’s are doing as many as five CDLI courses each this school year.
“The CDLI program is the greatest thing that has happened for small schools in that it allows us to offer enough required credits to have the students in the community graduate from their own schools. It’s probably not as good as having a live teacher in a classroom but it comes in a really close second.
“We could not offer many, probably none, of the more advanced courses here with only two and three-quarter units that have to provide a full curriculum for the other students, so, this program is great for my students.”
The high school students at St. Peter’s today are doing CDLI courses in math, writing, world history, science, chemistry, and advanced math.
Shelby Banfield is a Level 111 student at St. Peter’s.
Banfield said, “I’m doing an advanced math course and a Level 111 chemistry course online this year. Five of my seven courses are with the CDLI program. The teachers in the initiative are highly qualified and are always there to help you. All you have to do is keep up with the work and everything usually goes from there.”
Banfield doesn’t mind keeping up with the work and the program is really helping him as he scored 100 percent in his June 2012 provincial Chemistry exam through the CDLI program.
Zachary Nash, a Level 1 student said, “The program allows us the opportunity to do courses we wouldn’t be able to do otherwise. I like the program which provides great instruction and gives us plenty of time to get our required work done.”
Guy Nash said, “The notion that students can’t receive as good an education in smaller schools as compared to the larger centers is a thing of the past. Our Level 111s graduate with all the required courses in the advanced maths, sciences and the language arts programs.”
Students at St. Peter’s have certainly done as well as other students in other areas of the province in the last number of years.
In 2012, Rebecca Feaver, grade 6, was one of the winners in the Take Charge Poster Contest while Zachary Nash, grade 9, was a John Horizon $1,000 scholarship winner. In 2012 Christina Fudge, Level 11, was one of the winners in the province’s annual Arts and Letters Competition.
Samantha Nash won a MUN $25,000 scholarship a few years ago and will graduate from the institution’s Faculty of Engineering in May 2013. Ms. Nash was recently selected as one of the
University’s engineering students to attend a mineral conference in Ottawa.
Teaching in a small school
As in any career, there are some advantages and disadvantages to teaching in a small school.
Nash said, “Our more senior students are very independent and have learned to adjust to this type of learning environment. My administration time is built into my teaching schedule so, if I have to take a phone call during a class I can rest assured that I can leave my students alone and they will continue on with the assigned work.
“Our school morale is high as nearly all the students help plan our Halloween party, our Christmas concert and our Presentation Night in June. We have a great group of community volunteers, and I like to consider the school like a small family that is in on nearly all decision-making and activity planning.”
There are some disadvantages to being the principal of a small school as well.
“Our physical education program is certainly limited as we can’t offer any team sports with such a small population. It’s difficult to offer a sports activity with students who may be in the physical education class from grades 3 to 9.
“Of course, the students’ opportunities for socialization are limited in small school like this but we can’t do a great lot about that.
“We don’t get a lot of teachers spending more than one or two years here as it’s difficult to keep young teachers in small isolated outports but that can be an advantage too in that new teachers just out of MUN bring in new ideas and new enthusiasm almost every year.
“The three quarter unit is something I disagree with as I think all units should be full time. It’s going to be harder to recruit teachers to places like McCallum if they only are going to receive 75 per cent of a regular teacher’s pay. They won’t have much opportunity for substitute time in a small school like this.
“I don’t have any allotted administration time as I’m teaching full time here. I don’t really mind that as I believe in leading by example, but it does mean I have to come to school a little early or spend extra time at school in the evenings on occasions.
“We’re physically far away from the school office in Gander but with the new Senior Education Officers in place, our contact with the Nova Central School District is really good.”