Once upon a time, if a neighbourhood did not include a school, the homes there had a lower value. It was preferable for children to walk to school rather than being bused or driven in by parents.
City planning is still done under long-standing rules that say for every designated number of homes in a new development, space must be set aside for a school. But this being Alberta, even though our population growth has been rapid, and though our growth includes a high proportion of young families, Red Deer hasn’t had a new school built for a long time.
While one sector of the city decries the lack of schools in our newer neighbourhoods, another portion has grown quite used to seeing those designated schoolyards remain as parks with not much in them.
And when the provincial government does finally decide our schools are aging and overcrowded, the material hits the fan when authorities pick a building site on some soon-to-be-former green space.
Red Deer needs a viable francophone school. Nobody questions that. The current location of Greater North Central Francophone Education Region No. 2’s school on 49th Avenue between 34th and 35th Streets is cramped and aging.
A few years ago, Alberta claimed Canada’s highest per-capita enrolment in French education programs outside of Quebec. It’s not certain that particular record still stands, but Alberta does have a strong French component in public education — no one from other provinces can fairly characterize us as unilingual rednecks.
But it is fair to characterize families that choose a public school education in a second language. You can see them as typically better educated, more likely to be highly involved in a child’s school life, more likely to volunteer at school events — and more likely to be concerned if their school has anything other than a stellar reputation.
The province is looking at dropping standardized testing, which is often (unfairly) used to rank schools — and by implication, neighbourhoods. But you wouldn’t find any such calls from a neighbourhood where parents demand high performance in a more difficult school program, and which is small enough that bad behaviour has nowhere to hide.
Having a French language kindergarten-to-Grade 12 school in your neighbourhood ought to be the gold card for your area. It’s the equivalent of having an exclusive private school within walking distance of your home, but without the costly fee structure.
For a young family looking to buy a home, such proximity would be worth thousands of dollars over similar homes in neighbourhoods where there are regular schools, or just green spaces. Because getting your kid into a school like this pays dividends.
Residents who attended the recent public hearing on the proposed francophone school along Addington Drive in Aspen Ridge really do have less to fear about the downside of having a public school near their homes. They reportedly sniggered when a teen student at the current school site of École La Prairie suggested the older students there don’t smoke and bomb around in their cars.
In this case, credit the knowledge of the student more than the prejudice of the nay-sayers.
Nobody’s kids are all angels, but the record shows that parents who go to the trouble of selecting specialized programs for their children’s education have made a higher-than-average personal investment in education. Therefore, they pay more attention to it.
Will there be more traffic in the area? Sure. This school will draw from a wider zone than a typical public school — but you’ll get preferential snow clearing in the bargain. Will there be more food wrappers flying around in the breeze? It happens. Will there be cigarette butts lying around on the parking lot? Depends how many of the staff smoke.
Would a K-12 French language school be a long-term credit to your neighbourhood? Judging by the parents likely to be involved: better than average.
Greg Neiman is an Advocate editor.