There were plenty of smiles and hugs at a barbecue to celebrate the wonderful work Kinsmen Vincent Massey School has accomplished in the years it has spent helping developmentally-challenged students in Cornwall Thursday.
But behind all those smiles, there was also a great deal of sadness.
In one form or another, the Kinsmen School has spent decades educating special-needs young people. That all comes to an end at the end of this school year when Kinsmen ceases to exist – and that’s why so many people were walking around with heavy hearts.
“I feel very sad for the parents who have children here now,” said Joy Seguin, whose son Andre is now 26 and out of school but began attending Kinsmen when he was just five. “I know at the time for my son…it was the best thing for him.”
Seguin pointed to former principal Morley Gee as one of the best she saw. And when it came to describing educational assistant Carolin Hickman she used the word “gem” in describing a woman who helped Andre through many years of ups and downs.
When she turned away from a journalist to surprisingly see Hickman standing behind her, Seguin threw her arms around her in an embrace that spoke volumes.
Kinsmen principal Anne Presley said the emotion of this school year has been an underlying feeling for everyone at the facility.
“It’s a very emotional experience,” said Presley, adding while Thursday’s barbecue was a way to celebrate the school’s achievements, the underlying sadness will undoubtedly boil to the surface upon graduation day on June 22. “It’s like when your kids go off to school. You want to protect them as much as you can.”
The students at the school have been broken into two groups. The younger students, up to Grade 6, will attend school at Central Public starting this fall. The balance of the students will head to newly renovated facilities at Cornwall Collegiate and Vocational School.
Presley said the Upper Canada District School Board made the decision in 2008 to close the school in an effort to follow provincial integration policies that suggest greater exposure to traditional classroom settings is more beneficial to special-needs students.
That doesn’t wash with a lot of parents, including Shaun Savard whose son Jordan attends Kinsmen.
“Just to see the school close…it’s good name is being demeaned by shutting the doors,” said Savard, who is creating a documentary to mark the school’s closure.
Kinsmen began its work in the early 1960s when a group of concerned citizens and the Kinsmen Club of Cornwall, as well as the city, agreed a school needed to be created to address the needs of special-needs children.
The school opened on April 22, 1964 at the corner of Ninth and McConnell Streets. Over the years it would move to Cheryl Street in 1995 and then again to the former Vincent Massey School on Cumberland Street in 2003.