Sharon Mennonite Collegiate (1951-1969) (Yarrow, British Columbia, Canada)
In 1945, the Yarrow Mennonite Brethren Church established a private school, later known as the Sharon Mennonite Collegiate Institute (SMCI), on the church grounds. Within two years the Greendale and East Chilliwack Mennonite Brethren churches joined Yarrow in constructing on Wilson Road a new facility costing over $100,000. Economic reversals in 1948 brought on by the collapse of the raspberry market and the flood in Greendale, forced the closure of the school in 1949. Although devastated by the swift demise of the school, several determined individuals refused to give up their dream of locating a Mennonite high school in Yarrow. Led by Aaron Rempel and Peter Loewen, they established a school, which opened in September 1951 with grades 8-10, three teachers, including Henry H. Voth as principal, and 62 students. Originally known as Yarrow Christian High School, the School Society (Verein) officially adopted the name Sharon Mennonite Collegiate (SMC) for the school in May 1952.
Philosophy and Purpose
In many respects, the philosophy of SMC was similar to that of its predecessor, the SMCI. The desire to transmit the group's heritage was evident in the inclusion of German and Mennonite History in the curriculum. The idea of a village school, of keeping the young people safe by educating them in the community, was still prevalent in its early years. In addition, the school sought to provide students with a spiritual perspective, counteracting what many felt was an excessive secularization in the public schools. Consequently, daily chapel and a praise and testimony meeting (Erbaungsstunde) on Friday afternoons were built into the school schedule. Remaining to be clarified was whether the school would define itself as a Mennonite/Christian or simply as an evangelical Christian school.
Buildings and Grounds
Like its predecessor, the Sharon Mennonite Collegiate opened in makeshift facilities, utilizing buildings on the church grounds, and sharing the Bible School auditorium for chapel and music. Exploratory talks with the Chilliwack School Board relative to purchasing or renting the old public school building on Central Road proved to be nonproductive. In 1953, the School Board accepted a three-acre plot on Stewart Road, donated by Peter P. Neufeldt, and erected a modest two-story building, 74 feet by 54 feet, with an estimated cost of $14,000, relying heavily on volunteer labor. An auditorium, added over the next three years, completed the building program.
Student recruitment remained a major challenge throughout the school’s history. After opening with three grades in 1951, the school expanded to six grades (7-12) and 96 students in 1952. With the addition of grades six and thirteen (the latter dropped after two years), enrollment reached 110 students in the 1955. Enrollment, which stood at 116 in 1960, dropped into the sixties by 1963. Proposed strategies to increase enrollment failed to reverse the downward spiral. In 1966, facing increased provincial educational requirements which would impact the senior grades, the Church agreed to downsize SMC to a three-teacher, four-grade (grades 6-9) school.
Efforts to broaden the enrollment beyond the Yarrow MB Church proved to be unsuccessful. For example, in the 1964/65 year, the school attracted only two students from Greendale and one from the Yarrow United Mennonite Church.
Finances proved to be a major problem for the school committee. Consequently, teachers' salaries remained low and friends of the school, including students' parents, school board members and even teachers were called upon to participate in pledge drives to cover the school’s annual deficits. In 1957, the Yarrow MB Church agreed to provide a financial package which essentially covered the school’s annual deficit. In exchange, the Church appointed three members to the school board, making SMC a joint society/church school despite the opposition of some church members.
Administration and Faculty
Unlike its predecessor, Sharon Mennonite Collegiate began as a Society (Verein) and not as a church school and remained as such until 1957. On 15 January 1952 the school board was officially organized with Henry P. Neufeldt and Aaron Rempel as chair and vice chair respectively. In 1956 Peter P. Neufeldt succeeded Henry Neufeldt as chair, retaining that position until his election as senior pastor of the Yarrow Church in 1959. Aaron Rempel then assumed leadership for the following nine years. Peter Neufeldt and Aaron Rempel deserve special mention, the former for donating land, money and his labor to the school; and the latter for his efforts in bringing the school into existence and being the school's spokesman in the church for over ten years.
Sharon Mennonite Collegiate experienced fairly rapid turnover in the principal’s office. Discontinuity in the principal's office reflected the school’s struggle for survival brought on by an insufficient enrollment and an extremely limited financial base.
The school board struggled to recruit and retain qualified faculty. In addition to receiving relatively low salaries, teachers felt pressured to sign up in the school board’s annual pledge drives. With less than one faculty member per grade, teachers were compelled to teach multiple subjects and grades. Except for faculty in music, religion and German, instructors for the upper grades were university graduates who often lacked a teaching certificate. In contrast, faculty in the lower grades usually held teaching certificates but lacked university degrees. On occasions, Bible school instructors, such as Herman Voth and C. C. Peters, joined the faculty in the spring after the Bible school year ended to teach religion and German.
The school offered the standard provincial programs in the junior high grades and the university entrance-required courses in the senior classes. Adding German, religion and music to government’s course requirements necessitated students taking a relatively heavy course load. By 1963, increased governmental requirements, along with the addition of French, necessitated that time devoted to German and Bible be decreased. With some exceptions, students writing the governmental exams in Grades 11-13 did relatively well, having a pass rate at or above the provincial average.
Music, drama, and journalism constituted a major part of the extracurricular program. The school published two papers: first Sharon Speaks followed by the Chatterer. The Drama Club presented both English and German plays. Most important was the music program, which included senior and junior choirs, along with voice and instrumental musical ensembles.
With applications for the coming year failing to reach forty in May 1969, the Church agreed to close the school. The following summer the Church sold the school to the Canadian Reformed School Society in Abbotsford for $54,000 payable over three years. The Society established the John Calvin School, a thriving institution drawing many of its students from member churches in the Abbotsford area.
The demographics never favored the Sharon Mennonite Collegiate, as Yarrow's Mennonite population declined significantly in the 1950s and 1960s. The concept of a village school, questionable in 1951, was untenable by 1960. The fact that the school existed for 18 years was due to the sacrifice of parents, teachers, and board members, as well as to the Yarrow Church assuming ever-increasing financial responsibility after 1957.
Klassen, Agatha. Yarrow: A Portrait in Mosaic. Yarrow, BC, 1976.
Newfeldt, Harvey. "The Education of the Yarrow Mennonite Community, 1928-1960," Historical Studies in Education 7 (Spring 1995): 71-95.
"Sharon Mennonite’ Collegiate." Konfenz Jugendblatt (May–June, 1952): 11.
Yarrow Pioneers and Settlers. "Sharon Mennonite Collegiate." Web. 4 November 2009. http://www.yarrowbc.ca/mennoniteschools/smc.html.
Sharon Mennonite Collegiate Principals
|Henry H. Voth||1951-1955|
Cite This Article
Neufeldt, Harvey. "Sharon Mennonite Collegiate (1951-1969) (Yarrow, British Columbia, Canada)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 2009. Web. 23 Nov 2017. http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Sharon_Mennonite_Collegiate_(1951-1969)_(Yarrow,_British_Columbia,_Canada)&oldid=114409.
Neufeldt, Harvey. (2009). Sharon Mennonite Collegiate (1951-1969) (Yarrow, British Columbia, Canada). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 23 November 2017, from http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Sharon_Mennonite_Collegiate_(1951-1969)_(Yarrow,_British_Columbia,_Canada)&oldid=114409.
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