Passing the entrance

 In Opinion

The school year is over. For the grade eights their elementary school days are over. In Creemore they are honoured and celebrated with a parade and a ceremony in the gym at the school. 

My grade eight celebration consisted of entering the classroom in the morning of the last day. We were each given a bottle of pop which was a treat back then. After we sipped it the teacher gave a little speech, handed out the report cards, dismissed us and we all went running free for the summer vacation. 

I asked Catherine McArthur Harper, Jean Falls Gentles and Dorothy Timmons Shropshire what they remembered about their last week or day at the one room schools they attended. Strangely their memories were blank. Perhaps they had easier work the last while. But that is the point. Nothing much did happen. The excitement at the one room schools happened on Arbour Day in early May. The school was tidied and  cleaned and the yard raked and tidied too. The fun came in the afternoon when they had trips to the river or the creeks.

But it wasn’t always that way. Grade Eights had to “Pass the Entrance.” Passing the Entrance seemed to take on the importance of passing the exams to get into medical school or law school. Passing the exams qualified the student to enter high school. The pass mark was 50 per cent. The requirement began in 1874 with the provincial government passing the Consolidated Act. The annual exams continued until 1949. Students were tested on arithmetic, grammar, geography, spelling dictation and composition. The exams were set by the Department of Education in Toronto. They were marked by the inspector or high school administrators.

School boards vied with each other to hire a teacher who had a reputation of getting his pupils through the entrance. Instruction focused on what was likely to be on the exams. Sometimes extra classes were held after dismissal time. At first everyone had to write the exams. Then a certain percentage of the class were exempt if they had a good average. This exemption had to be approved by the local inspector. In this area the exams were held in Singhampton, Creemore and Stayner.

The exams were held over two days and the pupils from the one room schools had to find a way to these centres.

The results were published in the local newspapers and as you can imagine, the anxiety level waiting for the results was high. Some parents awarded their sons or daughters with a watch on passing.

Leaving grade eight and moving on is an important milestone in a student’s life. Honouring them in one way or another sends them on with confidence for the next step in their lives.

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