Red Deer Catholic is short of space for full-day kindergarten classes

What stopped Red Deer Catholic Regional School Division’s full-day kindergarten pilot project in Red Deer was not a lack of provincial funding, but perhaps an even bigger problem facing the division — a lack of space.

What stopped Red Deer Catholic Regional School Division’s full-day kindergarten pilot project in Red Deer was not a lack of provincial funding, but perhaps an even bigger problem facing the division — a lack of space.

Three schools within the division offered full-time kindergarten programs as part of a pilot project for the 2012-13 school year: St. Teresa of Avila School in Red Deer, St. Marguerite Bourgeoys School in Innisfail and Holy Trinity School in Olds.

For the 2013-14 year, the latter two programs remain, but in Red Deer the experiment is over, for now.

“I think it was an experiment that certainly worked program-wise. Space-wise it was a challenge for us. I think as a board we would be prepared to support that programming again in a school with an identified need, if they could provide the space for it,” said Catholic board chair Guy Pelletier.

St. Teresa offered the programming alongside regular half-time programming last school year, with a strong uptake.

The full-time option was opened up primarily for students with an identified learning need.

For the 2012-13 school year, the programs attracted 17 to 23 students, with everyone expressing an interest being accommodated.

Pelletier said the programs in Olds and Innisfail are running again this year with good success, but St. Teresa simply could not continue with the division experiencing five per cent enrolment growth.

“As good as that is that people want to have access to our good programs, sometimes it does create space challenges.”

Premier Alison Redford pledged during the 2012 election campaign that her government would make full-day kindergarten mandatory across the province within a year of being elected.

That still has not happened, although the education minister told the Advocate in January that he supports its implementation.

The province provides funding for half-time kindergarten instruction, and the estimated price tag for full-day programs provincewide is $200 million.

Six provinces fund full-time kindergarten, while approximately 11 per cent of Alberta youngsters attend full time, with individual divisions providing funding.

The Catholic division committed $200,000 for the first year of the pilot project. Wild Rose School Division and St. Thomas Aquinas Roman Catholic Schools offer full-day programs in Drayton Valley and this year introduced parental fees of $250 per child for the offering.

Pelletier said that even if the province finds a way to fund the initiative provincewide, he is not sure it can be accomplished.

“If it became blanket funded across the province all of us, every division, would have a challenge in finding room to accommodate that programming,” he said.

mfish@bprda.wpengine.com