Meet the only high school grad in King’s Cove this year

Maggie Long is doing six high school courses online this year. She’s been the only person in her grade at St. Mark’s School in King’s Cove since Grade 3.

Maggie Long has been the only person in her grade at St. Mark’s School in King’s Cove since Grade 3. (Troy Turner/CBC)

St. Mark’s School in King’s Cove, a tiny town of 90 people on Newfoundland’s Bonivista Peninsula, has been Maggie Long’s second home most of her life.

It’s where she entered kindergarten, and where she will graduate from Grade 12 next month.

It’s at St. Mark’s where she learned how to read, went over her multiplication tables and learned the basics of outer space and history. But more than that, it’s where Maggie has felt a sense of fulfillment with each grade completed, and where she grew into a young adult.

And for the past nine years, she’s done it as the only person in her grade.

When Maggie, who’s now 17, started school, she was one of four people in her grade. But those classmates moved away from her, leaving her by herself in Grade 3.

Losing the classmates was disappointing, she said, but the school was anything but lonely.

“It’s been great,” she said. “I feel like I’ve grown up with all the people around me.

“I really do think it helped me out … to be more independent when it came to my schooling.”

St. Mark’s currently has 23 students, from kindergarten to Grade 12. Enrollment has been on a steady decline for decades since its population peaked at 266 in the 1995-96 school year.

The in-class offering may not be as diverse as in larger centers, so high school students avail of online learning to provide a larger variety of courses.

However, where course offering pales, the relationship-building between students and staff excels.

“I can text my teacher on the weekend and be like, ‘You’ll never guess what happened, can’t wait to see you Monday’…And it’s not like a weird level — there’s still that professional/teacher student thing, but it’s still a nice friendship too.”

Maggie Long, center, speaks with principal, Leanne Wiseman, left, and assistant principal, April Churchill, in the office of St. Mark’s School.

Long speaks with principal Leanne Wiseman, left, and assistant principal April Churchill in the office of St. Mark’s School. (Troy Turner/CBC)

April Churchill, who has taught at St. Mark’s for 12 of the past 14 years, says it’s a small school with a big impact on the lives of the students.

“In such a small school, we’re more like a family.… She’s not alone,” she said. “Any time throughout the day for any of her ella classes, plus her de ella (online) ella courses, she’s in the classroom with other students who are also working.”

Principal Leanne Wiseman is new to St. Mark’s this year. She’s taught in other schools in the area but was drawn to King’s Cove.

“In the class sizes, it’s much better quality instruction, and even though it’s a small school, they still have lots of opportunities,” Wiseman said.

Despite being the only graduate, Maggie’s ceremony will be much like any other. There will be a graduation gown, speeches, toasts, a few dances, food and a decorated hall.

She and her mother are organizing the entire thing.

“I just knew I wanted it to be all about me, which wasn’t hard to achieve. I know I wanted a lot of flowers because I love flowers, but I just knew how the grads were before so I kind of based it off of everything they’ve done.”

Maggie Long and her mom Debbie unwrap the gown she will be wearing as the lone graduation from St. Mark’s School.

Long and her mom Debbie unwrap the gown she will be wearing as the lone graduate of St. Mark’s School. (Troy Turner/CBC)

Debbie Long says the town of Summerville, where the Longs live, as well as many other communities in the area, have thrown their support behind Maggie and the graduation.

“It’s not a question of, ‘Oh, poor Maggie’s not having a graduation,’ it’s ‘When is Maggie’s graduation?’ They know that she’s going to have one.

“Everybody gets a big ceremony. So just because she’s in a class by herself doesn’t mean she doesn’t deserve to celebrate the 13 years that she’s gone through school.”

Maggie will spend the summer working before heading to school in St. John’s, where she will study medical office management at College of the North Atlantic.

It’s a much larger community, one where everyone won’t know their name.

And despite knowing she’ll miss her school family, she’s looking forward to the change, class size and all.

“I feel like I’ve just been kicking around here for a long time. I’m really excited for a change of scenery,” she said.

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