How Core Gaelic Started in Antigonish
In 2003 Brian MacDonald, the then Vice Principal of St. Andrew’s Junior School, began work to bring Gaelic language programming into his school. He was aware that Gaelic was a teachable subject in Nova Scotia Schools, though at the time it was only being offered at one school in the Mabou area. This was a holdover from an earlier pilot project that had Gaelic being taught at several schools in Inverness county during the 1970’s, and the program had been run as a volunteer after school program from 1993-98 as a result of funding cuts. It was only after high enrollment in the after school program in 1998 that the program was reintegrated into the curriculum of the school.
With this in mind, Brian started his own work by partnering with the St. Andrews Gaelic society to offer an after school Gaelic program to students. This program was successful with large numbers of students attending the program. However, in spite of this success it was an uphill battle to the goal of having Gaelic incorporated into the school’s curriculum. This was in part because Gaelic was not a core subject in the early 2000’s, and there was no funding for Gaelic teachers, or program materials as a result. This also meant that, unlike today, French was given priority over Gaelic in schools. However, Brian envisioned Gaelic being on equal footing to French in Nova Scotia schools with students being given the option to choose to study one or the other.
In pursuit of this goal Brian started a parents group as well to advocate Gaelic’s inclusion in the school’s course offerings. He also arranged meetings with the superintendent and other administrative staff of the then Strait Regional School Board. In addition to this, he received advice from a lawyer in Antigonish who was sympathetic to Gaelic and agreed to speak on behalf of this vision to administrators. On the lawyer’s advice, over 500 letters from students were collected and sent to school administrators, all speaking to a desire to learn Gaelic in school, and how it would be a benefit to them culturally and academically.
This was an important part of the process and it led to a meeting where parents sat down with school administrators to advocate for Gaelic language classes to be offered to their students. This push by parents, as well as the demonstrated interest of students, was key to what came next. During the meeting it was decided that funds would be provided to support a Gaelic language program in Antigonish, and, not only this, but the new program was to be a core subject. Which meant that Gaelic would be given the same priority as French.
In the following year Mabou would switch its own Gaelic language programming to core Gaelic and many schools would follow suit. Students are now able to, at schools where Gaelic is offered, choose which language they would like to study starting in Grade 4 when offered at the elementary level. This is with the exception of the Rankin School of The Narrows where Gaelic language instruction begins from grade primary, and St. Andrew’s Consolidated where students study both Gaelic and French in rotating semesters from grade four to six. Today eleven schools across Nova Scotia now offer Gaelic language instruction in Inverness, Antigonish and Victoria counties and in HRM.