Teachers, parents and most importantly, the students themselves, all wore their hearts on their sleeves Tuesday evening as they stood up and spoke out to save Saint Mary’s Elementary School in Halifax.
Several youngsters also shared their feelings about their beloved school. They hung their artwork inside and outside the Morris Street building, scribbled heartfelt valentines to their school and sang during a passionate public performance in the school gymnasium.
The community gathering was hosted by Halifax regional school board to hear directly from those affected by the school’s possible closure. Several people in attendance were stuck standing on the fringes of the gym since there were no empty seats.
Chairman Irvine Carvery, superintendent Carole Olsen, district representative David Cameron and other school board members listened patiently as dozens of people lined up at the microphone to share their thoughts on why Saint Mary’s should stay open.
Grade 4 students Kathleen Stewart and Ann Elizabeth Finnigan were the first of many children to bravely express their thoughts in front of the large crowd.
“We need Saint Mary’s School to stay open because little kids need little schools,” the nine-year-old girls said in perfect unison as supportive claps echoed throughout the gym.
“Well, that’s a tough act to follow,” Mr. Carvery said with a chuckle.
Scott Purcell lives about a half-hour outside the city core, but said he chose to start his daughter off in Grade Primary at the school because of its high quality. He pointed to the school’s small class sizes, its multiculturalism and the daycare next door as major benefits.
“This school should be what we strive for,” he said.
Fellow out-of-area parent Charles Crosby agreed Saint Mary’s helps his family feel like a part of the community, adding “this school is the embodiment of what we should be trying to build.”
City councillor Dawn Sloane, who represents downtown Halifax including the area that covers Saint Mary’s, agreed the school board shouldn’t “close something that’s not broken.”
Teacher Jill Macumber said it doesn’t matter that there’s no specialized music space at Saint Mary’s. She said the gymnasium actually provides concert-like acoustics.
“Children have more room to explore with materials such as scarves, ribbons, balls and instruments without feeling constricted,” she said.
Ms. Macumber said she “would far rather teach at a unique and special school like Saint Mary’s, without a music room, than at another school with a perfect musical space but no Saint Mary’s community surrounding it.”
Grade 6 teacher Andrea Fader choked up with emotion as she said her choice to come to the school was “the best decision that I ever made.”
She said students there have “zero behavioural issues.”
“You either have to retire or die from the school in order to get a position,” she said, inciting laughs all around. “And that speaks mountains.”
Helena Sparavalo spoke articulately about her appreciation for the school.
“We have unforgettable teachers and they treat us all equally and they always have smiles on their faces,” the little girl said. “Even though Saint Mary’s is a small school, it has a big heart.”
The small south-end school with a population of about 115 students is one of three on the potential chopping block this year.
St. Patrick’s-Alexandra, an elementary and junior high school in north-end Halifax, and Alderney Elementary School in central Dartmouth are also up for review.
The public meetings for the other two schools have already wrapped up, but the school board will continue hearing from Saint Mary’s community members on Thursday evening. Mr. Carvery has said the school board should hold its final votes on all three schools by the end of next month.
Click here for more information on the school review process.