Yarmouth Vanguard associate editor Tina Comeau, a member of the YCMHS Class of ’87, recently spent some time with YCMHS staff and students to get their feelings about the YCMHS era on Parade Street coming to an end. For decades it’s been this high school that students starting out in various elementary and junior high schools in the town and parts of the county have graduated from. In September a new high school opens on Forest Street.
By Tina Comeau
It's a Wednesday afternoon in the middle of June and it’s not unlike similar Wednesday afternoons in the middle of June from years gone by.
At Yarmouth Consolidated Memorial High School classes are winding down. Exams are around the corner. Jeans have been traded in for shorts as the countdown to summer vacation begins. Although for some, the countdown has probably been underway since the middle of May.
A vote is taking place for next year’s student council co-presidents. This school year isn’t even over yet and already planning is underway for the next school year. But next year, just a little over two months away, won’t be like any other year at Yarmouth Consolidated Memorial High School.
For the first time since the school opened in the early 1950s, students won’t be in this building anymore. They won’t be walking across the checker-boarded tile hallway outside the gymnasium. They won’t be gathering in the corner of the foyer in between classes.
It’s an odd sight inside the guidance office. On two round tables are stacks of zipper binders that are inches thick and each weigh a small ton. Students who don’t want to cough up the money for a locker leave their binders here during the day. A steady group of students comes in and out of the guidance office area. They still have assignments to complete, exams to study for and another important line of business.
“Can you sign my yearbook?” says a student as she extends it to a classmate.
The cover of the YCMHS 2011-2012 yearbook reads: The final bell.
For this high school, yes it is.
On the wall outside the office of YCMHS is a poster that reads “Being Here Matters.” And for about the past 60 years, that has been true. But come September this school will be empty as a new Yarmouth high school opens on Forest Street. When the 2011-2012 school year had gotten underway, there were expectations that students and staff might move into the new high school midway through the school year. But delays in construction dictated otherwise.
This fall will mark the first time that half of the student population coming into the high school will be new to the majority of the staff teaching there. Grades 12 and 11 will have plenty of familiar faces, but the faces in Grades 10 and 9 will be new, coming from both Maple Grove and Yarmouth Junior High, the latter school also permanently closing its doors at the end of June.
As the YCMHS era draws to a close, there are mixed feelings. They range from excitement over moving into the new building to nostalgia for the building being left behind.
Among those leaving this building with a sense of melancholy is Bobby Lou Reardon. A graduate of the YCMHS Class of ’81, she’s a teacher and guidance counsellor at the school.
“I’m one of the few people here that doesn’t want to move and isn’t excited about going to a new school,” she admits. This isn’t to say she’s not looking forward to welcoming the new bells and whistles that will come with the new school in terms of technology, but to her the new school just reinforces that even without all of these bells and whistles Yarmouth Consolidated Memorial High School has been a good environment for students and staff.
Over the years Reardon has worked hard to make school a positive experience for the students who have passed through these halls. And this goes beyond just academics.
She was instrumental in helping to start up a spirit club that has always been about more than just going to basketball and soccer games to cheer on fellow students. It has also been about instilling a sense of pride in one’s school experience.
This isn’t to say that these efforts have worked for everyone. School is a different experience for all students and while for many it’s a good experience, for others it’s a dreadful one. The fact is not everyone likes school and Reardon says there will always be work and challenges on that front.
But among her greatest feelings of accomplishment at this school has been to try to make this a place where people feel they belong and where being here does indeed matter. And also with the spirit club one thing they wanted to achieve was to bridge any gap between the school and the community.
“In other words, do things and give back to the community like they’re always giving to us,” she says. “I’m not sure we always do that visibly, but we raise money for a lot of big charities and organizations.”
But if you’re talking school spirit, you can’t do so without mentioning these two words: winter carnival. Whether you were the Class of ’77, ‘87, or ’97, it’s hard not to think back on winter carnivals of past years, or about the reaction of the student population when the curtains were pulled back and the winter carnival mascots were revealed.
Dino the Dinosaur’s Dangerous Destiny.
Bertha Beaver's Winter Fever.
Suzie Squirrel’s Winter Whirl.
And Carlos La Cucaracha’s Fabulous Fiesta, to name but a few. Yes, in 1987 students paid homage to a paper mache cockroach.
Traditions are easy to bring to a new school. They don’t require packing. And so the students and staff of Yarmouth Consolidated Memorial High School will bring the old traditions from the old school as they build new traditions in the new school.
YCMHS staff member Joanne Morton, a program support assistant at the school, is looking forward to the move. In 21 years of working in the old school she’s seen a lot of changes. Physically. Academically. Socially.
“This building itself is just totally different,” she says, reflecting on the changes over the years and from the time she was a student at YCMHS in the 1970s.
“This was the home-ec room,” she says about the guidance office that doubles as a drop-off for rogue zipper binders. “At one point you could be upstairs and look down into the gym because it had big screens. When I was a student here we had portables. Oh, and teachers could smoke in the staff room.”
Morton says come this fall, it will be nice to have all of the students under one roof, as opposed to having classes spread out in the high school, the PA Best Centre and the junior high across the parking lot.
“I’m ready for change,” she says. “I have mixed feelings too. I know I’m looking forward to the move but I’ve been coming here for so long I’m afraid I’ll get up one morning and come here by mistake.”
Students continue to come and go from the guidance office.
Grade 12 student Shayne Hurlburt bursts through the door and shares his thoughts about this school soon shutting its doors. Although he won't attend classes at the new school, he was one of many students earlier in this school year who helped create mosaic floor tiles designs that have been included in the construction of the new school.
He says he's okay with the fact that students didn't get to attend classes at the new high school this year.
"We're the last ones here to make cool memories," he says. Asked about getting his photo taken, he enlists three other students to be in the photo with him. "Let's climb the tree out front!" shouts Hurlburt.
Ah yes, the tree. It's almost as much of a landmark as the school itself. Hurlburt tries, unsuccessfully, to climb the tree. Its trunk is so thick it leaves little to grasp onto and the branches have gotten higher as the years have passed by. So he and classmates Allan Rowe, Allison Graves and Allison Emin stand in front of the tree, whose trunk is now more than four students wide. The two Allisons are asked for their thoughts about the YCMHS era ending on Parade Street.
"It's just weird to think that. It feels just like yesterday we were coming into Grade 10 from Maple Grove and now we're graduating and going our separate ways," says Graves.
"It's pretty exciting to think about," says Emin. "You remember the first people who graduated and then the last people who graduated so we're part of history."
Rowe, meanwhile, has seen his share of schools in his student lifetime. With his parents working with the Salvation Army the family has moved around a lot. "This is my eighth school so it's kind of cool to think I'm graduating in the last year of this school being a high school," he says.
While many students here in Grades 10 and 11 are eager to move to the new school, another member of the Class of 2012 reflects on being part of the last graduating class. "Being the last graduating class from the YCMHS building is a really great memory to have. We have the opportunity to create the last memories and times shared in the old building," says Melissa Barron.
YCMHS teacher Jill Flynn didn't attend this school in her teen years, but she is among those eager for the move to the new school. "I'm very excited," she says. "I think it will be motivational not just for students but also for staff, being in a new building with new technology. I think it will do a lot of school spirit and morale – not that it's low in any way, I think it's very strong – but I think it will give it an extra boost."
Flynn hopes students will get a chance before the new school year to get into the new school for an orientation, so that everyone doesn't walk through the doors on the first day feeling overwhelmed.On the subject of being overwhelmed, for Flynn comes the question of what to do with all that stuff.
"One thing that's really hard about moving out of here is what do you do with all of your stuff that you've accumulated," she says. "I've been teaching for 20 years and do you know how bad am I? I have every plan book since I started teaching." There is nothing wrong with being a packrat. But it can come back to haunt you when it's time to pull up stakes and go somewhere new.
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