Soap Box

The past affects my future

Coaker Academy
Summerford, New World Island, Newfoundland

By Natasha B. (Grade 12)

"You need an education!" That's a phrase I'm sure we've all heard a thousand times before. Everyone seems to know how important education is, and with all our modern technology and knowledge you would think that everyone would have the opportunity to receive a better education. This may be possible in urbanized areas, but in places like rural Newfoundland, it's becoming harder and harder.

My grandparents got their education in a one-room schoolhouse, in their own community, with one teacher for all subjects, all students, and all ages. The same situation existed in the next community where my friend's grandparents got their education in another one-room schoolhouse with one teacher.

As time went on, things changed and modernized. Because of this modernization, my parents got their education in a school in a nearby community which contained lots of classrooms and a teacher for each room. This was a big step for the school system. However, not all students went to this nearby school. The Pentecostal children had a separate school for themselves.

When Newfoundland joined Canada in 1949, churches ran the educational system. One of the conditions of joining Canada was that the churches would continue to have the right to control the educational system. This section of the constitution was known as Term 17.

This educational system became known as the Denominational Education System. There were three separate committees for each of the major denominations. The Catholics and the Pentecostals each had their own committees. The Integrated committee included the Anglican, Salvation Army, United Church and other denominations, and jointly managed the schools that were left. The Seventh Day Adventist church also operated a separate system and continues to do so.

The churches approved which teachers could teach at their schools, and through their school boards, they chose the courses that would be taught. In most areas, this meant that there was more than one school offering the exact same courses.

This type of system went on for years and is still going on. I am a Grade 12 student at Coaker Academy and every day for the last 12 years my bus passes another school, G. Shaw Collegiate, on the way to my school. It's only logical that I should have to go to the school closest to home, but because G. Shaw is a Pentecostal school and I am an Anglican, I must travel twice as far every day to get to school.

In 1995, the Liberal government led by Premier Clyde Wells proposed changes to this system and held a referendum asking for permission to modify Term 17. This was narrowly approved by a vote of 55%. After some difficulty with the Senate, the Federal Government made the change to Term 17.

Ten new boards were formed in the province with board members who were appointed. While the churches no longer had direct control over the schools, they were guaranteed representation on these boards. They were also given control over matters relating to religion, religious observances and also control of some schools where sufficient numbers of students from a particular denomination warranted a unidenominational school.

Finally, this past spring it was decided that the two schools in this area, Coaker Academy and G. Shaw Collegiate, would combine and become one interdenominational school for all students, no matter what their religious affiliation. G. Shaw would close while Coaker would remain open to become the new school. This ensured more course options, and thus a chance for a better education.

A few short months later this all changed.

The Catholic and Pentecostal churches were not satisfied with the new arrangements and, this past summer, asked for a court injunction preventing changes to the system until they were approved by elected board personnel. This was approved, and the work on combining the schools was stopped. The government decided to try to get rid of the Denominational System altogether and until that happens, the schools will not change.

So, now I'm back at Coaker with a smaller-than-expected student and staff population. All my hopes of getting the new courses that were supposed to be offered were destroyed. There is now only one teacher to teach both the Academic and Advanced Math courses, and at the same time. Sounds sort of like my grandparents' schoolhouse, doesn't it? Will we have to return to the days of the one room schoolhouse before the government is finally able to make the changes and give us the better education?

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