“It’s not just a school – it’s the heart of the community”

The flag at Madoc Township Public School

As I took this photo of Madoc Township Public School this past Sunday morning, I found myself thinking about the long-ago centennial-year ceremonies that had taken place where the flag is flying. A few hours later, a Facebook post by another former student brought many of those happy memories back. There are so many good memories associated with Madoc Township Public School!

Update, noon on Tuesday, Jan. 17: The public meeting to discuss possible closure of Madoc Township Public School has been rescheduled from this evening to tomorrow (Wednesday, Jan. 18) because of today’s freezing rain. The meeting will be at the same time (6:30 p.m.) and in the same place (the gym at Centre Hastings Secondary School) as originally scheduled.

People from throughout our community are preparing for this evening’s tomorrow’s (Tuesday, Jan. 17, Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2017) public meeting about proposed major changes to our local schools. (A nasty forecast of freezing rain may affect that meeting, but as of this writing no cancellation or postponement has been issued by the Hastings and Prince Edward District School Board.) The change that would most directly affect Queensborough and area is the board’s proposal to close our kindergarten-to-Grade 6 elementary school, Madoc Township Public School, and bus the students into “town” (the village of Madoc) to Madoc Public School. The proposal would also see all Grades 7 and 8 students moved from Madoc Public to space at the high school in Madoc, Centre Hastings Secondary.

I’ve already (like here and here and here) written quite a bit about this proposal, not holding back on my concern about the loss of what is by all accounts an excellent school (it recently placed first in the school board for student results in reading, writing and math) with a huge playground area that encourages fitness, fresh air and time away from phones and screens. In yesterday’s post, I wrote about how, in addition to all those attributes, Madoc Township Public School is an important part of our community as a whole. If we lose it, we lose a key component of that community. I believe this is the single most important issue here: that closing the school deals a blow to prospects for attracting young families to live, work, open businesses, hire people, pay taxes and otherwise contribute to community life and well-being.

But I’ve made that argument already, and probably will again. Today, as we prepare for the public meeting, I wanted to share with you the personal story of someone who attended Madoc Township Public School starting the very year it opened, 1961. These words come from a post this past Sunday on the page of the Facebook group I Went to Madoc Township Public School, and they struck a chord with me and brought back many memories – because I too went to Madoc Township Public School, back in the days when I was growing up here at the Manse in Queensborough. I asked the writer, Barb (Foley) Rivers, if I could share them here, and she has kindly given me permission:

“When MTPS opened I was in Grade 3. It was so exciting to go to a new school, with flush toilets and water fountains and everyone riding on a bus to get there!” [Note from Katherine: Barb explained when we were exchanging messages the other night that she, like almost all of the first students at Madoc Township Public School, had started her education in one of the many one-room schools (complete with outhouses) that dotted our area (including Queensborough) back then: “I went to Burris one-room school in Grade 1, then in Grade 2 we had to go to Rimington school as they were building MTPS on the site of Burris school … In Grade 3 the new school was opened so we went there.”]

Barb continues: “Many new friends were made!

Madoc Township Public School 2

The “new” section of the school, added when I was a student, featured a library and gym. The front entrance and offices have since been moved there.

“There was no gym or library when I was there, which was for six years.” [Katherine again: an excellent library and gym were added to the school during the time I attended it, a bit after Barb. Very exciting!] “(But it) was a community building – 4-H meetings were held there as well as other gatherings. We planted trees there and celebrated Canada’s 100th in 1967, and the whole community came together there to celebrate and put on a parade.

“Every Valentine’s (Day) we were bused to Cooper arena from the school, where we had a skating party and were treated by the teachers with honey-dipped doughnuts and hot chocolate.

“The big school grounds allowed for baseball, swings, tag or whatever else you wanted to play and get lots of exercise.

The teachers were all local, as well as the principal and janitor. They knew the students and their families. If someone was in need, everyone helped out.

“It’s not just a school – it’s the heart of the community and has been for 50-plus years!

“I have fond memories of every teacher I had there.”

I think the part I liked best about Barb’s reminiscence (aside from her remembered excitement about flush toilets and water fountains, which is so sweet) was her recollection of activities held at the school to mark Canada’s centennial. As I was taking pictures of the building just this past Sunday, before I’d read her post, I found myself thinking back to the same tree-planting ceremony she mentions, and to the teachers and our wonderful principal, Florence McCoy, all dressed in 19th-century costumes, and to how thrilling it all was to six-year-old me. Our country was a century old! Imagine that!

In our private exchange Barb pulled out one more happy centennial reminiscence:

“I was fortunate to be in Grade 8 in 1967 at MTPS as the Madoc Township councillors paid for our whole class to go to Expo 67! I have a twin sister so two of our family went.” (Ah, a trip to Expo – what could be better than that? I wrote about my own once-in-a-lifetime Expo visit here.)

The family Barb is referring to, by the way, is a very important one in the history of Madoc Township Public School. The Foleys lived just down the road from the new school, and Barb’s father, Joe Foley, went into the school-bus business because of it: “My dad got his first bus when the school opened. That was the beginning of Foley Bus Lines. My brother runs it now and has added coaches also.” Foley is a big going concern still, but I remember when the company consisted of just a few school buses – and Joe Foley himself, a really nice man, drove our Queensborough run.

Like I said earlier, the danger in our school being closed is the damage it will do to our rural community and way of life. Our own personal memories and our attachments to Madoc Township Public School must be secondary to that concern, and to finding ways to continue the school’s tradition of giving local kids a great education and start in life.

But my goodness it’s fun to be reminded of those happy long-ago days at Madoc Township Public School, when Florence McCoy and other community dignitaries led us through centennial celebrations. Thank you, Barb!

Meanwhile, folks, weather permitting, I hope to see and chat with lots and lots of you at tonight’s tomorrow night’s meeting. It’s in the gym at Centre Hastings Secondary, and it starts at 6:30 p.m. Please bring your ideas, your energy, your creativity – and yes, your memories – as we work together to try to save our school.

2 thoughts on ““It’s not just a school – it’s the heart of the community”

  1. My heart goes out to Madoc Township PS folks, past and present. Hoping for great things for you tonight. These school-closing stories are heart-breaking, based as they are on financial decisions, and not on the needs of kids and communities. I hope and pray that you folk will be able to influence the decision. ‘Meanwhile at the Manse’ is a powerful and persuasive voice. And a lovely nostalgic one, too.

    • Thank you so much for your kind words and your support of the cause of keeping our rural school open, Lindi. As you’ve no doubt heard by now, the meeting was moved to tomorrow night because of the freezing rain that struck the area today. So it’s all still ahead of us, but I feel confident and buoyed by all the community support that seems to be out there. We’ll do our best!

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