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Little Schoolhouses On The Prairie

Walking into the Brant- Argyle School is like stepping back in time save for the guy in shorts installing wireless Internet and the tidy computer stations aligned in rows.

You ve got this wonderful blend of old-school traditional and cutting-edge technology at the same time, said Rolly Gillies, one of four teachers at the two-storey brick schoolhouse. I believe that is the message we are sending to our children (is) there is value in what is going to last, in our communities, as well as in what s new,

A designated provincial historic site, the building has its original floors and stairs, bright windows, pressed-tin ceilings and a stone foundation.

It also has something else most other rural schools of its vintage don t have: students.

I believe there will be 46 children here in the fall, says Gilles. There was some talk years ago about how small we should go, and even then there were people in the community who were very adamant that the school, which is part of the community, stay open.

A few other small schools have also survived the amalgamation trend including the Alf Cuthbert School in Moosehorn and Waskada School, a K-12 institution that had a graduating class of only four students last June.

When you are at a school that is so small, you do always worry about closure, it s always at the back of your mind, said Denise Benton, who has been principal at Waskada School for the last six years. I think that the factors that keep a school like this open are a really dedicated staff and a very dedicated community.

Benton noted most of the students at Waskada School end up going onto post-secondary education, and there has been positive feedback from professors with Waskada graduates in their classes.

ADVERTISING

To help ensure the Brant- Argyle School keeps its doors open, that school s parent advisory council has recently published a brochure advertising the kindergarten to Grade 8 school and the benefits of multi-level learning. The Interlake School Division allows students from outside the Brant-Argyle School s catchment area to attend.

We wanted to make people aware of the options out there, that there are choices, said Cathy Crerar, an advisory council member and mother of two students at the school. This is a great learning environment. There aren t classes with 25 or 30 kids where some kids might struggle.

Smaller, mixed classes allow students to work at their own level, while identifying strengths and weaknesses, she said. Children are split between four classrooms, each with about a dozen students. Younger kids often learn through osmosis, listening in on other discussions, while older students have the opportunity to mentor younger ones.

Bullying doesn t appear to be an issue at most small schools either.

I like the small town, knowing the parents and the teachers. For my kids, I know it s made a big difference, said Crerar, adding her son Devyn, 10, had his best academic year ever after starting at the Brant-Arygle School last year.

The Crerars had been living in Alberta, attending a school with about 250 students.

I like this school more a lot, gushed Devyn, who didn t let a broken leg over the summer slow him down. When we get here, we play mostly grounders or tag. Mostly the whole entire school together. Then we go inside.

The Grade 5 student added he also enjoyed buddying up with younger students to help out with math.

IT S FUN

One of those younger students is Devon s sister, Cassie, who said it wasn t so bad seeing her brother at school.

But he is still my arch-nemesis, added the seven-year-old, grinning.

Brant-Argyle School principal Laura Perrella noted the advisory council s brochure has resulted in three additional students enrolling for September.

Perrella, drawn by the school s class structure, decided to come to Brant Argyle a year ago after six years teaching in Lynn Lake.

Multi-level learning does exist in other schools, but usually just in little pockets, it s not the focus. So it was very nice for me to be able to come on board here, and have that focus, she said.

Both Perrella and Gillies said students share a sense of ownership and respect for the building as well.

Know historically as the Brant Consolidated School No. 1703, the Brant-Argyle School is the last consolidated school still open in Manitoba. Built in 1914, it amalgamated Brant School No. 84, established in 1880, with McLeod School No. 239, established in 1883. The school was expanded in 1923 and a gymnasium was added in the 1970s.

It certainly gives a sense of beauty as people and parents come in, but they ll also comment on their own connection to the school, whether it was their parents who were students, or their grandparents, said Gillies. One fellow came in and his grandfather had been a contractor on the building. When the children hear comments like that, they know this is more than a building, this has history and has been here for a long time. It s a community and it s a family.

The closure of rural schools has altered rural life, said historian Les Green.

There was a time when there was a school almost every three miles. At that time they were the centre of the community, said Green. It was the place that celebrations were held, desks would be pushed aside for dances, and meetings would happen there.

Gillies said he believes his school will continue to be part of the rural community into the future and would like to see more like it.

If anyone were to ask me, I would say we should look at closing some of the big schools, and opening more of the small ones, he said.

shannon. vanraes @ fbcpublishing.com

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Ifanyoneweretoask me,Iwouldsaywe shouldlookatclosing someofthebigschools, andopeningmore ofthesmallones.

ROLLY GILLIES

About the author

Reporter

Shannon VanRaes is a journalist and photojournalist at the Manitoba Co-operator. She also writes a weekly urban affairs column for Metro Winnipeg, and has previously reported for the Winnipeg Sun, Outwords Magazine and the Portage Daily Graphic.

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