Nova Scotia

Big Tancook Island Elementary School future uncertain as enrolment dwindles

The future of one of the few one-room schools left in Canada is uncertain, with only one student registered to attend an elementary school on an island off Nova Scotia's South Shore in September.

Only 1 student registered to attend the 1-room school in September

The future of one of the few one-room schools left in Canada is uncertain, with only one student registered to attend an elementary school on an island off Nova Scotia's South Shore in September.

This year, there are two students enrolled at Big Tancook Elementary School, which is located on an eight-kilometre-long island about 50 kilometres southwest of Halifax. 

Big Tancook Island has about 125 year-round residents and is only accessible by a ferry that takes 50 minutes to cross from the mainland.  

The South Shore Regional School Board set up a committee to examine the future of the school given its dwindling enrolment — and this week the committee asked the board to keep it open.

Hillary Dionne, the committee's chair and a resident of Big Tancook Island, says it's worth having the school even for one student because of the challenges posed by getting to a school on the mainland every day.

Few ferry runs to get to mainland school on time

"There's so many different things that our students are going to have to worry about that they wouldn't normally," she told CBC Radio's Information Morning.

The elementary school in Chester — a village on the mainland — starts at 8 a.m. To get there on time from the island, a student would have to get on the Tancook ferry for its first run of the day, which is at 6 a.m.

The ferry schedule also means students would get home almost two hours after classes let out for the day. 

"It's a very, very long day especially for a real little one and the wharves — the Tancook wharf and the Chester wharf — are both loading zones with lots of freight and vehicular traffic and hazardous goods," said Dionne.

"Are they really getting a good education by having such a long day and getting schooled outside their community?"

A Big Tancook Island resident says it wouldn't be safe for young children to take the ferry to get to Chester for school every day. (Stephanie vanKampen/CBC)

Primary to Grade 5

Dionne said there are some families that may be moving to the area, which could add a couple of students.

The committee that made the recommendations was made up of two community members and two school advisory council representatives each from Big Tancook Elementary and Chester District Elementary schools.

The school board has the final vote and they have about a month to decide whether to agree with the committee, disagree or find some type of middle ground.

The school serves both Big and Little Tancook, although there are no families on Little Tancook, which is about 1.5 kilometres long. The school's one teacher has worked there for 32 years, Dionne said, and covers Primary to Grade 5. 

She commutes daily from Chester. 

"She's known our children since they were babies," Dionne said. "Recess and lunch the kids spend them outside playing and riding their bikes up and down the road and building tree forts. It's such a unique start to a child's education, it's a wonderful school."

Dionne attended the school herself as a child in the late 70s when there were about 29 students. 

"Learning together and feeling included in everything was amazing," she said.


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