The Little School with the Big Heart

My beautiful little high school, Cartwright HS in Blackstock Ontario, is closing at the end of this year. And I am sad.

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I’m not sure how attached most people are to their high school, but I am very attached to mine. High school was an amazing experience for me, and I spent some of the best years of my life there.

plays

Good, good times.

For as long as I can remember, there have been rumours surrounding the school being closed. I remember hearing about it in Grade 9. But they were always that – just rumours. Until now. This process has been going on for at least a year, and there have been many meetings and decisions and appeals. But now it is final. Cartwright High School, affectionately dubbed “the little school with the big heart” is closing.

Here are some interesting facts about Cartwright High School:

  • It is the smallest public high school in Ontario, and one of the smallest in North America.
  • When I attended CHS, it had 150 students. It had 115 students enrolled in the 2011/12 school year, according to Wikipedia.
  • My graduating class had 25 people in it, and that combined us OAC’s (Grade 13 before Ontario eliminated that) as well as a few Grade 12’s.
Half of my graduating class

Half of my graduating class, and several of my best friends

  • When I attended, almost a quarter of the school was in the band (including myself  – played the flute, holla!), and due to the dedication of our band director and music teacher Mr. B, the band won numerous awards. In fact, it won at least one award each year. We also took several trips, to Quebec City, Ottawa, Halifax, etc.

CHS-band

CHS-band1

  • Inside the school there are four classrooms, a library, teacher’s lounge, and the principal’s office. And there are about a million portables (okay maybe around eight) for the other classes.
  • There is no gym, or auditorium, or cafeteria. There is a double portable which serves as all these things. Or sometimes we would use the gym at the local elementary school (which I also attended).
  • CHS is across the road from a tractor dealer (at least I think that’s what it is. It is a giant lawn with tractors all over it.)

It really bothers me when I hear people mention that Cartwright students must not have the same opportunities as students at larger schools, because we didn’t have adequate resources or specialized classes. And there was recently a letter to the editor in the local paper from some dude saying just that.

And then there was this article, with this quote:

Board Chairman Joe Allin indicated the programs and resources at Cartwright are subpar. For example, when he attended the Robert McLaughlin Gallery for a show featuring Durham high schools in the fall, Cartwright was the only one that wasn’t represented.

“I find the library quite frankly an embarrassment,” he said, adding that a student graduating from Cartwright, and going to a large university’s library, would be lost.

The school also doesn’t have a gymnasium.

I know that the school is probably not the same as it once was due to the loss of OAC and several amazing teachers. However, the quality of your education has nothing to do with the size of your school, and Cartwright proves that. Or maybe the size of your school has everything to do with the quality of your education, and Cartwright proves that.

Sure we didn’t have a gym, or a cafeteria. Or classes like shop or home ec, or photography, or other fancy arts classes. Or a big library. Did I fantasize sometimes about attending a larger school? Of course. My grade had three guys in it. And I always wanted to go to big football games and cheer for my school. Our yearbooks were paperback and in black and white until I was in Grade 12. My student card in Grade 9 wasn’t even laminated. Did I mention we didn’t even have a GYM?

But I never regretted attending Cartwright for one second. And I have never felt that my high school education was subpar due to the size of my school. Our high school experience wasn’t like what you see in movies, true. But for me it was better.

Let me tell you a few things. Out of the 24 people who graduated alongside me, three quarters were on the honour roll. For basically our entire high school career. We were forced to take advanced classes (or university-type classes, whatever it is now in the Ontario curriculum), because we didn’t have the resources to also offer general or basic classes. Also, all of us went on to post secondary education. ALL of us.

Skipping class was very rare unless you were old enough to drive, because where would you go? There are two convenience stores in Blackstock, and that’s it. You think you’re going to skip class to hang out at the convenience store? I don’t think so. And pretending to ride the tractors across the street got old pretty fast. So until at least Grade 11, skipping was pretty much unheard of.

I was on the basketball team and I didn’t even have to try out.

bball

Which was a good thing because I wouldn’t have made it. I sucked. Our whole team sucked. We lost every single game, by a LOT. And we definitely had the worst looking uniforms of any school we played against. But it was a TON of fun.

Bullying was pretty much unheard of, because you were basically friends with everyone. Grade 9’s were friends with Grade 12’s.

cartwright-hs

The people in this picture span 3 grades

You knew every student, and probably their parents. I didn’t get nervous about public speaking or performing in plays, or making a general fool of myself because I knew everyone.

Like the time I played a blind Portugese accordion player in a school play

Like the time I played a blind Portugese accordion player in a school play

We were always encouraged to just be ourselves. I went to prom (or formal) every year from grades 9-12. Our whole school did. Every event we had was an entire school event.

Prom-12

Grade 12 Formal

Prom-OAC

OAC Formal

I was never in a class with more than 20 people. We got to know our teachers so well I consider two of them friends, and we actually hang out with them now (Mr. B and Marni).

With Mr. B

With Mr. B

With our English teacher Marni

With our English teacher Marni

I made the best friends of my life. We had all of our classes together, so we grew so close, and are still very close now. I see them all about once a month, and you will probably recognize them as they pop up on here regularly.

girls

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Cartwright High School isn’t just a high school, it is a community. It is almost like a big family. CHS shaped who I am. Going to that school gave me the confidence to just be me.

Grade9

Grade 9 Kingston Trip

And I am sad that other students will not get the chance to experience this, but will now be forced to attend a much larger school with about 2,000 students. I had a choice of which school I wanted to go to when I was graduating Grade 8, the big one, or the small one. I chose the small and never regretted it. But now students will not get that choice.

There will be a celebration for Cartwright High School on Friday, May 24 at the school. Here is the info: 

The Open House begins at 1:15 PM with a visit to students working in classrooms. Decade Rooms will be open from 3:00 until 9:00 PM with displays and memorabilia. This will provide an opportunity for reflection and shared memories. A light lunch will also be provided (sign me up for that).

 Also, if you are a former Cartwright HS student reading this please note there will be slideshows set up in the decade rooms. If you would like to contribute your photos, please send them to chsmemories@outlook.com. And tell all your friends!

And if you are not a CHS alumni, tell me something about what made your high school great!

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27 responses to “The Little School with the Big Heart

  1. Man, I hated high school. I was a “late bloomer”, so I didn’t do very well with the super-cliquey student body.

    However, the best thing about my high school was that was where I met my now-husband. We started dating when we were 15 and never stopped. Puppy love at its finest!

  2. I used to go to Weldon in Lindsay and I remember our band going OH NO! if we had to compete against your school band because you would kick our butts! That was seriously my very first thought that popped up when I found out CHS was closing.

  3. Thanks for this Lindsey. CHS was and is very special for both students and staff. That we were part of such a unique place, in such a positive way, will be with us always.

  4. I’m so sad that your adorable little school with the big heart is closing! I think attending a smaller school prepared you in ways that others miss. Let’s face it: except for college, all of your life situations (church, family, job) will be as part of a smallish group. A large high school only teaches you to interact with a big group of homogenous individuals. A small school forces you to cross barriers like age, grade, or social class. That sounds like better preparation to me!

  5. I went to a middle-sized high school, but still my classes didn’t have more than 20-25 people in them. I can’t think of anything that made it great though. I hated high school. I was in a different school zone so all my friends from middle school went to another high school. I knew exactly one person that went to my high school.
    I probably made 3 really good friends that I hung out with all the time, but that’s about it. I had a teacher say “screw you” to me once too. That was fun. Thanks Linds! Thanks for bringing up all these memories! *cries in a corner*

    P.S. so cute Mr. B commented on your blog!

  6. Much like nearly everyone else who attended, I have umpteen different memories about this fantastic school. While I can agree with some of the criticisms regarding it’s size and course availability, I believe the high school experience to be best enjoyed with a sense of community.
    In that respect, CHS is miles beyond any of the larger schools in the Durham region. Problems like bullying, drop outs and alienation were virtually non-existent. As a result, students’ self confidence went up, unlikely friendships (and in some cases, relationships) were forged, and an overall sense of safety permeated the walls of that school.
    It was a funny little building with low ceilings and dark bathrooms; and I will miss it immensely.

  7. Well said Lindsey. You capture the spirit of Cartwright so well. Lots of great memories. Perhaps the appeal will work. It is hard to believe such a wonderful place will be forced to close. I am very sad.
    Ms. Fletcher.

  8. I went to a high school that my graduating class was about 102. This seems big compared to yours but it was small compared to others!

    I just had to tell you that I played (play?) the flute from 6th grade until well into my 20s. The movie “American Pie” came out my senior year of high school. It made for an interesting conversation starter “And one time…at band camp..”

    • Haha, YES! A fellow flutist! I played from Grade 7 until also well into my 20s, AND I went to band camp. TWICE. So I feel you on that… Definitely heard that line a lot…

      • Yeah, we had band camp every year. Thankfully, I only had to deal with one year of high school after the movie. To this day, though, one of the guys I had homeroom with will yell “And one time!!” every time he sees me in public. As a note, he’s a president of a bank now, not a Stiffler.

  9. Elyse Vander Ende

    I go to Cartwright now. Im in grade eleven so obviosly the closure is affecting me as I have to go to a whole new school for my last year of highschool. I have had the same teachers and routine for three years and it’s all going to change in my most important year of high school. Its going to be a difficult transition too. Not to mention Im just sad I wont get to find out who from my graduating class would have been prom royalty or valedictorian.. Those were things we were looking forward to since grade nine. Now Ill never get those opportunities.
    And the most frustrating thing about it is the whole process of analyzing it all took over a year and the trustees NEVER thought about how screwed we get over it. I mean, I can’t do any extra curriculars anymore cause I dont have a ride to practise! I can’t do most of the courses at Port because I dont have the prerequesties. So the whole thing where the board said “theres more opportunities at port” is the farthest from the truth in my scenario and many others.
    The last thing Ill say is to just think about the teachers. Some have been teaching there for 25 years. They live near there, there routines and lives are so used to it.. And now they’re out of a job. You know how they told the teachers? They sat them in the office the day after the trustees vote, five minutes before class and told them. I remember seeing some shake their heads in anger, others dropped their gaze… Some teared up. Can you blame them? And then they were literaly put back into class a few seconds later and we all had to act like nothing was wrong. The whole thing is wrong tho! Its so stupid and frustrating. I mean, the board literaly works for students to have good grades, great attendance, high OSSLT marks, no bullying, over all inclusion, a positive enviroment.. All these things most schools strive to get a piece of CHS has easily. And yet the board closes us..
    Im sorry Im ranting, its just the most upsetting thing… I could go on forever. Ill just leave off saying I will really miss that little school. A lot.

  10. Lindsey you couldn’t have stated it any better! You were able describe our experiences, memories and share the wonderful opportunities that we as students were able to participate in. Some of my fondest memories of high school student life are: the supportive environment, friendships made, community involvement, participation in sports teams, extra-curricular activities such as the one-act plays and events that at a much bigger school I would never have been able to participate in! Having skilled, genuinely caring & supportive teachers involved in our community and supporting us also gave us the confidence to be who we are. If it wasn’t for our teachers, especially Mr. B & Mr. C (- I wouldn’t have had the courage to pursue my passion in the arts!

    As they say bigger, isn’t always better and having the most up to date resources, tools & facilities can’t foster success in students on it’s own. We need caring, skilled and passionate individuals invested in learning that are able to foster our students and future students success! Our students & teachers involved are not just numbers, they are people – important people invested in their community, higher learning, the future and their children’s futures! It is very saddening to see (in my opinion) such a successful learning model within our education system being shut down.

    As Mrs. Fletcher said, you have captured the spirit of Cartwright so well. And yes, we all have very fond memories of Cartwright – it will be very sadly missed!

    Kebbie Gibb

  11. so awesome it was a small, close knit school. That is how my elementary school was, when I tell people that all through elementary school there were only like 12 kids in my class they think that was crazy (considering most now have like 3 or 4 classes for each grade and there is 20+ students in each!). In 6th grade the kids (or their parents rather) had a choice to stay at the elementary school or go to the middle school, so 6th grade was always tiny like 5 students so it would be conducted in the same classroom as the 5th graders! so crazy.
    Anyway, sorry to hear the school is closing! Loved you sharing your memories though, so awesome!

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  14. SERIOUSLY? No bullying? My kid suffered hideously at CHS – our house was egged more times then I care to count by drive-by cowards ALL of whom went to CHS. Probably just harmless country fun, right? Yes, being targeted repeatedly for daring to be different – that’s not bullying at all.

    It was impossible to be different at CHS; the smaller the school, the tighter the cliques. I’m really glad you had such a lovely time but I couldn’t wait to get my family the hell away from Blackstock and it’s narrow minded populace.

    Sorry to rain on your parade; Personally I am glad to see the school closed.

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