When the lunch bell rings at Citadel High, there's more traffic bustling through the halls than at some universities. The congestion of bodies filtering down the stairs, between doorways and through halls is normal for these students---after a year at Halifax's super-high school they're starting to get used to it.
This past fall, Citadel High brought together two of Halifax's oldest rivals, Queen Elizabeth High School and St. Patrick's High School, along with a handful of students from other schools to boast roughly 1,400 students.
The new school was the answer to two aged and well-worn buildings. But does bigger necessarily mean better?
Citadel High is now preparing for its first graduation ceremony, though the grads won't walk across their own stage. At the end of the school's first year, how did it go?
Ben Proudfoot is one of Citadel's 404 potential grads, a former student of QEH and co-president of the student council. He was part of the transition team made up of students from both feeder schools that helped to make year one at Citadel High run smoothly, plan events and make students feel welcome. Before the school opened, most of the buzz centred on how students from the rival schools would mesh together, or clash.
For most students, however, it wasn't the people who were the issue, but the large number of them. "I think that the sentiment of having so many students was kind of blown up...I mean, St. Pat's only had about 300 students in their school last year, so that's a big bump up, but QE was a pretty big school, so it wasn't that big of a shock to anyone who went there," says Proudfoot of his first impressions of the new school.
Classes of 30 students and crowded stairwells took some getting used to for others, though. Mike Merlin, an eleventh grader and former St. Pat's student, says the biggest change he noticed was the increase in numbers: "St. Pat's cafeteria, you could always eat there. Citadel...no way. People are always eating in the halls or going down to Spring Garden. It's over-crowded to the max." Citadel High's cafeteria, which is an atrium-like structure and is without a deep-fryer, holds about 485 students at once. And every student at Citadel High shares the same lunch period, even though the cafeteria only fits a fraction of them. Space is also a factor when it comes to student assemblies, which are normally held by grade.
Aesthetically, Citadel High is a huge step up from the older buildings that most students were attending. Its clean, updated design includes LCD projectors in the classrooms, a large library and more computers for students to use. While this polished look and equipment benefits the students attending the school, Proudfoot says it doesn't leave much room for atmosphere.
"QE had a lot of character---wherever you went there were these little nooks and crannies and places you could go where nobody was, which this school certainly lacks," he says. "It's a pretty straight-forward building. Here's the cafeteria and there's three floors and they look exactly the same and every classroom has the same layout...but I think since it's the first year it's hard for students to feel a sense of belonging."
Character, Proudfoot says, will come with time and it's something the students already have a start on, through getting involved with different events and activities. He says that his contributions to Citadel High's student life have helped him to feel connected to the school.
Kayla O'Hearn is a grade 11 representative on the student council with Proudfoot. She says she was initially overwhelmed by the school, but it's since grown on her. After a year at St. Pat's, she misses the tight-knit family vibe that school had. "I think that when is totally wiped of people who went to St. Pat's or QE, it'll be a lot better because everyone won't have that love for the other schools."
A challenge for this year's staff and student council was taking bits of traditions from both QEH and St. Pat's and starting new ones. "I think people who are spending all three years here will really start to feel the school spirit," says Proudfoot, "and by school spirit I don't mean rah-rah-rah at games. Although it might include that, it's sort of like a fellowship among the students." But even the rah-rah-rah wasn't so bad: The huge student population showed up in strong numbers for Citadel sports and activities. "When everyone came together, it made really strong," says O'Hearn of the student body's participation.
The school also saw great success with the arts. Both St. Pat's and QEH had outstanding reputations when it came to music and their talents merged for Citadel's first musical stage production, West Side Story. One catch though---the school's auditorium is just a shell. Funding for a theatre and a second gym was not included for the new school, as per Department of Education guidelines. But the show must go on.
Concerned community members have been working with the city to raise enough money to outfit the empty theatre. The Citadel High Legacy Campaign has raised $1.6 million of its $2.3 million goal and looks forward to decking out an 825-seat performance space. In the meantime, West Side Story took to the stage at the Quinpool Education Centre---the former St. Pat's. "That was just a major oversight when they built the school," says Proudfoot. "They didn't think their funding should cover it. It's really a shame they didn't build it." And as far as a venue for Citadel's first graduation ceremony goes? They'll accept their high school diplomas at the Cunard Centre.
For Citadel High students, this has been a year to work out some kinks and set the pace for those to come. As one of the first graduates of Citadel High, Proudfoot takes pride in his school and the work he's put into making it enjoyable for his peers. He feels lucky to be part of history in the making and says, "Everything we do is a first, so we're really trying to make everything the best we can."