(Editor’s note: Gary Adams is the superintendent of schools/ CEO for the Chignecto-Central
Regional School Board)
Dear Mr. Adams:
The McCulloch House Museum has been a member of the family of Nova Scotia Museums since 1972. The museum tells the story of Dr. Thomas McCulloch who came to Pictou in 1803 and became the centre of controversy that changed life in 19th century Nova Scotia. His passion for liberal education launched him on a journey to create public education in this province. We continue to tell this story 200 years later.
The museum also tells the story of development and progress Pictou Academy has made to the culture and identity of Nova Scotia. A variety of school programs tell the story of Pictou Academy, Dr. Thomas McCulloch, and the establishment of non-secular education – which began in the backyard of this very property.
We currently offer a very successful “History Detective” school program that was developed as a collaborative project between NS Museums (Department of Communities, Culture & Heritage) and the Department of Education. This “Museum Toolbox” was designed to meet curriculum goals and objectives of all grade levels. It’s of special interest to our participants because it involves the very beginning of public education. Many are still surprised, hundreds of years later, that it all started in Pictou and with the establishment of Pictou Academy.
The Genealogy and Research Centre has been a valuable resource to teachers at Pictou Academy. English students have visited the centre as a part of a research project that teaches youth about primary and secondary sources. What makes this teaching session unique is that students choose a prominent Pictonian, and most likely a previous Pictou Academy graduate, that has made great contributions to this community and often on a more global scale.
What is presented as a daunting or intimidating assignment to some students becomes a useful and interesting learning experience because of the direct relation that Pictou students have to their community, and the history of their school, and how their stories fit into the development of our province.
Our most recent, online digitization project, has been successful and of interest to our local youth – because of their commitment to the project on a volunteer basis. Our local students volunteer after school, during special events, on projects such as this digitization website, as well as participating in job shadowing, or Options & Opportunities, and often seek (and secure), summer employment. Because of the interest and enthusiasm that Pictou Academy students exhibit as employees we are comfortable as an employer to hire them just as confidently as we consider and employ university students. There is a special connection to hiring youth who feel they are a part of the community and want to be an active contributor to organizations such as ours.
In many areas, schools have traditionally been the focal point as a community meeting place and resource. This is found to be especially true in Pictou, where the schools have long been central in community activities and the shaping of local identity. Pictou Academy has served as a source of entertainment for the community, a catalyst for democracy, a forum for community problems and an opportunity for community members to take an
active part in the lives of students. A school that is a part of the community has also helped to improve the climate for education – and in 2016/17 it is no different than it was 200 years ago.
It is in small schools that we see innovative practices, such as cross-age grouping and the use of the local community in the classroom, such as this museum. Small schools are typically a source of pride, identity and stability for their communities and reflect and shape the social, economic and cultural outlooks and conditions of their community.
Failure to acknowledge school community relationships that Pictou has with its schools negates the potential role that the community plays in education. This community serves as part of the curriculum where it can be examined in its complexity – its history, its economy, its ecology. It has become a living laboratory through which students learn. It enhances their sense of connection to place, an essential ingredient to develop sustainable communities. It is also a source for developing entrepreneurial skills, leadership development, and a sense of civic responsibility. It also gives students a context in which to develop where they can see potential of their own community. One of our biggest
challenge is the out migration of Pictou’s brightest and best youth. Perhaps recognizing the impact of the school/community relationship has in the lives of the people who live here will provide the incentive to look at their own home community as a potential future.
The McCulloch House Museum & Genealogy Centre strongly supports Pictou Academy and its future in the Town of Pictou. We also support the recommendation to keep a P12 school within this community. Schools are the centre of the community, serving many functions that cannot be quantified in any school review process.