PICTOU, N.S. – Over the span of a century the faces have changed time and time again but the passion remains and the money keeps flowing.
With high school graduation around the corner, the Pictou Academy Educational Foundation is cutting cheques, continuing its pledge of 100 years to encourage and reward excellence in education. Last year as much as $60,000 was handed out in awards and prizes to graduating students. To put that in context, the Grade 9-12 school has only 128 students and a grad class of 28.
Back in 1916, PIctou Academy celebrated its 100th anniversary and graduates and supporters identified the need for a foundation. Perhaps due to the First World War, it was not until 1919, as the school and its programming were growing, that the foundation was established.
Luke Young, a PA graduate who currently chairs the 20 member foundation, noted it was formed through an act of the Nova Scotia legislature.
“Some of the original trustees were leaders of the Nova Scotia economy at the time and they must have felt a legislative act gave a greater permanence to the foundation. They need not have worried as we are still going strong.”
Beth Henderson, who attended PA and is the foundation’s longest-serving trustee, said she was invited to join 34 years ago because the foundation needed a secretary.
“Reflecting the times, it was an all male board for many years and there were few women when I joined. I think it was my boss at Scotiabank who put my name forward, but I got an invitation in the mail. It was all handled very quietly in those days and I’m happy to say the process is much more open now.”
Young pointed out the foundation publicly advertises to fill openings. Foundation members also put names forward and it was Henderson who suggested Young be asked to join.
“We were at a point where the foundation was all older folks, people who had the time for the work, but who had no connection to the school system for a long time. I thought we needed to have a perspective from some younger people like Luke who were still closely involved with the school.”
One of Young’s initiatives has been the creation of a program identifying needs within the school.
“All the awards and bursaries go to students leaving school so we wanted to do something to benefit those still in school. We invited teachers to submit ideas and each year we provide $5,000 to $10,000.”
Laptops were one of the early purchases under that program while a new stage for the drama program was recently constructed.
“We’ve also invested in restoring a music program at Pictou Academy. This program began at McCulloch Education Centre with the idea that by the time the students get to PA, they’ll have had good training and we’ll have a PA band again.”
The foundation has been instrumental in purchasing new instruments and repairing old ones.
Young noted the specific value of graduation prizes can vary from year to year depending on the return from mutual fund investments.
In the foundation’s early days it was directly involved in paying teachers and had a wide range of responsibilities including operating a stone quarry and golf links as well as residences, said Henderson.
Young added it was not unusual to have property or residences donated to the foundation so it had considerable real estate dealings.
Until recently the foundation met only once a year with committees meeting more frequently, but Young saw the need to increase that.
“With one meeting there were things that got delayed, but with three meetings a year we operate more efficiently.”
During the school year, trustees visit PA to tell students about their work and willingness to help them meet their goals.
As a member of the bursary committee, Henderson was preparing for her first meeting by teleconference.
“I go to a lot of meetings, but teleconferencing is new to me. I think it is going to work well because everyone has been putting in a lot of work and this will bring us together without anyone having a lot of travel time.”
Some prizes are decided by PA staff while other winners are determined by the foundation.
“We have a lot of very specific awards and it takes time to go through the applications for them. Some donations to the foundation came many years ago when the school system was quite different - for many years we had a prize for the top student in Latin, for example.”
Fortunately, in most cases there is room for interpretation to tweak a prize a bit to reflect current school offerings.
Looking back over her years as a trustee, Henderson has high praise for today’s students.
“It used to be all about marks and just marks so I suppose it was easier for us but today’s students are often working part-time, playing sports, involved in other extracurricular activities and volunteering in the community.”
Many PAEF awards are open to what Henderson calls “well-rounded” students.
“When I read many of their applications, I’m just in awe of today’s students. I don’t know how they manage to do so much but I’m very excited for them.”
The PAEF recently had a dinner to celebrate its anniversary and invited one of Young’s classmates to be guest speaker.
“Liz Rondolet grew up in Pictou, part of a large family with many still in the area and she had a very inspirational story to share,” said Young.
Henderson said Rondolet’s remarks brought her to tears and are a testament to what can happen at Pictou Academy.
“Liz had a hard time in junior high, but she told us how she got to PA and everything changed. She had teachers who believed in her and recognized her abilities. That led her to get involved in sports and student activities and develop her own ambitions,” said Young.
Rondolet went on to university, worked as a television producer, returned to school and is now a psychotherapist in Ontario.
“If I had any doubts about being involved with the foundation, which I don’t, they’d have gone out the window listening to her story,” said Henderson.
PAEF is also looking for former students who might want one of the old yearbooks they have inherited. Some of the books date from the late 1930s and 1940s and include advertisements for Malcolm’s Bakery on Water Street, McCarron’s Restaurant in New Glasgow and JE McKenna Druggist, father of current PAEF trustee Jim McKenna.
Rosalie MacEachern is a Stellarton resident and freelance writer. She seeks out people who work behind the scenes on hobbies or jobs that they love the most. If you know someone you think she should profile in an upcoming article, she can be reached at email@example.com