Fewer schools, more graduates

Reprinted from Decks Awash, Volume 15, Number 6
November – December 1986
Photographs from MUN Digital Archives

(Click on photos to enlarge)

Bill Russell, 1986

The Integrated all grade school at Little Hearts Ease has Grades 3 to 12, a student population of 340 and a staff of 18. It serves the 8-mile stretch from Long Beach to Southport under principal Bill Russell who assumed the position in 1969.

“When I first came here to teach in 1965, there were 11 schools in seven communities and about five denominations. Over the years, we’ve got it down to three schools—there’s two primary schools at Gooseberry Cove and Hodge’s Cove with 30 and 52 students respectively.”

The largest denomination is the United Church, followed by the Anglicans, Salvation Army, Pentecostal and Roman Catholics. Besides putting aside religious differences, the school has also broken down community differences, too.

“There used to be a distinct division between what we called Up the Arm—Long Beach, Hodge’s Cove, Little Hearts Ease—and Down the Arm—Southport, Gooseberry Cove, and Butter Cove. There were community rivalries with one group uncomfortable eating in the cafeteria with another. You could pick them out in the playground. One would be the Long Beach group, over there would be the Gooseberry Cove group. That’s broken down entirely, I think mainly due to the gymnasium, sports, extracurricular activities. You no longer see the same community distinctions.”

Slightly less successful has been the attempt to unify parents. A fledgling PTA formed a few years ago failed to fly.

Little Heart’s Ease Integrated all grade school with Salvation Army Citadel in foreground, 1986

“It’s very difficult to sell the idea to a parent in Long Beach or Southport that this school at Little Hearts Ease is their school. It’s hard for them to have the same loyalty as they did to their smaller community schools. But I think that will improve as our children grow up and become parents. Only this morning, we were discussing the idea of an alumni association with a graduate of a few years back.”

As in many schools across the province, enrolments have dropped, but so far Bill has been able to retain his staff. Where bigger schools might have two or more classes of the same grade, Bill’s school has just one, so even if the class drops from 30 to 20 students, he still has a class requiring a teacher. His biggest fear is that he may eventually be forced to put two grades in one class.

With fewer teaching jobs available, too, there is less mobility among teachers.

“Most of our teachers are settled permanently nearby. We used to get two or three young teachers out of university each year. Now without that movement, the students get to know the teachers better. But you have no new blood coming in and you can become stagnant. You need new people to get new ideas.”

An advantage of one large school over many small ones is improved facilities. One improvement is a fine gymnasium.

“We’ve done well in sports, particularly when you realize we’re competing with schools that have had gyms for 20 years. I remember the first few years the kids were a bit ashamed to compete with other schools. But now they do well and no longer feel inferior to anyone.”

Bill is proud of the school’s science program.

“I think we’re the only school our size in the district offering a three-phase science program: physics, biology, and geology. In fact, I’m very pleased all round with the new senior high program. It’s affected our retention rate quite remarkably.

“When they first brought in Grade 12, I thought we’d only get the few kids who were university bound, or going into nursing or some higher institution. But the whole group came and it’s continued. Now it may be the program is more appropriate—we’ve got one or two practical courses like typing and marine industries, and a credit course in phys. ed., things that give more kids a chance to shine—but it’s also affected the drop-out rate dramatically. We would get kids repeating Grades 7 and 8, then as soon as they were 15 they’d be gone. Now those kids are getting to Grades 11,12, and some are graduating.  

Bill has much to be happy about, even if he has less time to pursue other pleasures.  

“I do a lot of reading now but years ago I got into the hunting and fishing. I was captain of a tuna boat out of Long Pond for seven seasons. I even caught a tuna at Sunnyside and another off Dildo when very few were beingtaken in Trinity Bay”  

For the time being, Bill is content to catch pupils.  

“We moved four grades out of Gooseberry Cove just this year. We met with the parents first and explained the advantages their kids would have. There was no problem and I think they feel good about the school. I hope in a few years we can bring all the students on the Arm under one roof,” he concludes.

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Transcribed by Wanda Garrett, April 2019

These transcriptions may contain human errors. As always, confirm these as you would any other source material.