Crolancia Public School remains at heart of Pickle Lake community

It's an often-heard expression that the school is the heart of a small community, but in Pickle Lake, Ont., the proof is in just how many programs the small school offers for its students.

K-12 school most northern public school in Ontario

Erin Cummings is a kindergarten teacher at Crolancia Public School in Pickle Lake, Ont. She is originally from Ottawa. (Jeff Walters/CBC)

It's an often-heard expression that the school is the heart of a small community, but in Pickle Lake, Ont., the proof is in just how many programs the small school offers for its students.

Nearly a quarter of the 400 people who live in Pickle Lake attend Crolancia Public School. The name comes from combining the names of old mining towns near Pickle Lake. They are Pickle Crow, Pickle Landing and Central Patricia.

"I mean, I teach these kids three or four times before they hit high school," said Toby Jonasson, a teacher at Crolancia.  "So, you get to see them grow up, and they become like family to you."

Jonasson has taught in Pickle Lake over a span of nearly three decades. It's a long time, considering many teachers stay only a couple of years.

"The average stay for a tacher is about two years. But to me, this is my home, so this is where I'm going to stay."
Students in Toby Jonasson's Grade 3/4/5 class at Crolancia Public School in Pickle Lake, Ont. (Jeff Walters/CBC)

"We're always looking for substitute teachers, and if you're willing to stay, and you have the education, and I suppose personality to live in a smaller, northern community, it's a great place to get started," said Erin Cummings, the kindergarten teacher.

"Some people make it their whole career."

The school is much more than a place for education for students from kindergarten to Grade 12.

Breakfast programs, public health programs, such as a visit from a dentist hundreds of kilometres away, and the only after-school programming in Pickle Lake is based out of the school.
Toby Jonasson is an elementary teacher at Crolancia Public School in Pickle Lake, Ont. She has taught at the school over the span of nearly three decades. (Jeff Walters/CBC)

Jonasson said the number of students in the school has declined since the late 80's and early 90's, when mines in the area shut down. That made a major impact on how many people live in Pickle Lake.

"This is one reason why we've gone to triple grades, because I have 14 students, in three grades in one class. That's kind of typical for here."

Jonasson said the role the school plays in Pickle Lake is not lost on her.

"You get kids running to you to give you a hug every morning, or partway through the day. They come over, and 'Can I have a hug?' That's rewarding."

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