Nova Scotia

School scheduled to open in September will immerse children in Gaelic culture

It hasn't been easy, but a new Gaelic immersion school remains on course to open in Mabou, N.S., this September. Taigh Sgoile na Drochaide, which is being set up in partnership with The Gaelic College, will initially open to primary students. It is designed to raise children in Gaelic language and culture.

Aim is to have enrolment of 30 or more children by the end of 5 years

The Gaelic immersion school for young children in Mabou, N.S., will be the first of its kind in North America

It hasn't been easy, but a new Gaelic immersion school remains on course to open in Mabou, N.S., this September.

Taigh Sgoile na Drochaide, which is being set up in partnership with The Gaelic College, will initially open to primary students. It is designed to raise children in Gaelic language and culture.

Despite the hurdles, Kenneth MacKenzie, the school's working group co-ordinator, said the effort to get it off the ground has been worth it.

"This has been a bit of a challenge, but it's all been a really great challenge and it's been just really fun to do."

MacKenzie said he grew up in a Gaelic environment and learned many of his values from role models in the Gaelic Catholic community. 

"The closer we are to these cultures and who we are, the more grounded we are as people — the more ready we are to connect to other people and cultures from that grounded place," he said.

Perfect time

He said the revitalization movement over the past years has led to a thriving Gaelic community in Cape Breton and Nova Scotia. 

MacKenzie said this has led to the perfect time for the establishment of an immersion school. 

"There's a bit of a critical mass of kids right now, and parents that are supportive of the initiative that something like this is feasible where it might not have been a generation ago," he said.

According to MacKenzie, the plan is to open the school with eight students at the primary level. He said the aim is to have enrolment of 30 or more children by the end of five years.  

The school will take a Montessori approach to teaching. It works on the premise that students have an innate interest in learning. Children are allowed to learn in their own way in their own time. 

Gaelic lens

MacKenzie said a curriculum is being developed that will incorporate a full cultural experience and not just focus on language.

"So we wanted to take a broader view of things and try to teach through a Gaelic lens, a Gaelic world view, and the values that that espouses," he said.

Inspiration for the curriculum, he said, has come from the work being done by other groups doing similar things — especially Indigenous communities. 

MacKenzie said the working group has had discussions with people in Scotland, where Gaelic is a part of the public school curriculum. He said over the past year the Scottish have been generous in providing resources and guidance in online learning. 

The use of a tailored curriculum in a private school setting can contribute greatly to the cost to students, MacKenzie said. 

To offset this, and to keep the cost of schooling accessible to parents who want it, he said the school has embarked on a big, mostly private, fundraising campaign. 

"We're trying to get the tuition costs for students quite low," he said. "They'll be a fraction of what they are at a typical private school in Nova Scotia, and also to have a bursary system along with that."

According to MacKenzie, the goal is to have a five-year program from primary to Grade 4 but that could be expanded.

A fund in support of the school has been established by the Community Foundation of Nova Scotia, a philanthropic organization.

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