Kids should come first

By Nikki Mantell

A decade or two ago, the problem St. Mike’s High faced was finding enough kids to keep the little, rural school in Low alive. Today, it seems that problem has been flipped on its head. 

The school that was once seen as a struggling ‘have not’ high school in the sticks has been discovered as the little gem that it is: a tight-knit community of 147 students that boasts a low pupil-to-teacher ratio and a strong outdoor education program. Add to that a brand new gym, and it’s not hard to see why St. Mike’s is becoming more attractive, and parents further south in La Pêche and Chelsea have decided to send their kids up the line.

But now St. Mike’s is reaching capacity, and the school board has put forward its plan to establish and enforce new school boundaries, dictating who will be bussed to St. Mike’s and who will be forced to go to Hadley Junior and Philemon Wright High. Most schools have such boundaries, but it is going to be a huge and very unpleasant pill to swallow for local parents and students.

The general assumption is that most English kids in the Gatineau Hills go to those bigger schools located in Hull – the numbers show this. It’s going to come as a big shock to parents in Masham and the Alcove area, for example, to be told that their kids have no choice but to go to St. Mike’s, at least if they want to go by bus. Similarly, parents in Chelsea who planned to send their kid to St. Mike’s (right now there are 31 Chelsea students), can only do so if they are willing to drive 40 minutes each way before they do their own commute to the city and back every day – a non-starter for many. Taking away this choice is not going over well with parents. We already know this because some 1,400 people have signed an online petition saying as much.

The problem is that the schools are so very different in nature – both with their merits and downsides. St. Mike’s is a great option for kids who need more one-on-one attention, more outdoor time, more flexibility in their schedules, and less overstimulation from a huge student population in an urban setting. Hadley and PW, with a combined population of nearly 1,200 students, are seen as oversized ‘feeder’ schools where a kid can get lost or ‘fall through the cracks’, but they also offer programs that St. Mike’s does not: an impressive drama program, Sport Études, and a wide variety of organized sports and arts programs.

Parents want what’s best for their kids. A huge, overstimulating school full of kids from all over West Quebec may not be what’s best for an introverted kid. Similarly, a dynamic kid who thrives on new and different people and activities might be stifled at little St. Mike’s. High school is a pivotal time in an adolescent’s development; it can make or break a person. No wonder parents are upset.

Here’s hoping the school board can hear parents out, put kids first, and come up with new bus routes so that the kids can get the best out of their secondary education.