Photo by MYLES FISH/Advocate staff

Students get a sneak preview of the new École La Prairie

Enfin, une nouvelle école!

Enfin, une nouvelle école!

Finally, a new school for local Francophone students.

So says a colourful poster in what has been École La Prairie for the last 16 years. After a raucous year-end assembly on Wednesday, students walked out the doors of that school for the last time.

When they return in September, there will be new doors on a new school to enter.

On Wednesday, Elise Slywka and 130 other students from the French school got a bit of a preview as principal Jean Doyon led each grade through the new iteration of École La Prairie.

With a shy smile and a small nod, Slywka gave her approval of the new build.

The bigger, shinier gym, the kindergartner whispered, will keep her eager to strap on her backpack again throughout summer holidays.

On the tour proper, the younger students’ French exultations came fast and frequent. The Grade 8s and 9s were no less subdued, rampaging through the new gym that is nearly twice as large as the old one.

That old school was built in 1953, first existing as South Hill School and later Piper Creek School.

When the public school division shuttered the school in 1998, the North Central Francophone Education Region jumped to buy it, giving École La Prairie — established two years earlier in Red Deer — a permanent home.

Both the new and old school are located immediately west of Piper Creek on 34th Street — for now. The new facility was built on what used to be the schoolyard; this summer the old school will be demolished to make way for a soccer field.

Doyon said the move will be most beneficial for the school’s older students. While ostensibly a K-12 operation, the last formal classroom this year was made up of Grade 8 and 9s. Pupils then head off to larger high schools for their final years.

“We have a hard time keeping our students past Grade 9 and we’re hoping that in providing them with a space meeting their needs for teaching and also as an environment that they’ll stay with us,” said Doyon.

Whereas in the old school, sinks, a fridge and stove had been installed in a standard classroom to allow for cooking lessons, the new facility has its own foods lab. Students used to have to be bused to Westpark Middle School a few times per year for woodworking classes; now they have a great big space of their own.

The new school has much of the same design features as two other Red Deer elementary schools set to open in September.

They were all built through the public-private partnership model, a new approach for local schools.

École La Prairie is smaller than the two others, carrying a 250-student capacity that could be expanded to 300 with modular classrooms. Doyon said he is expecting 150 students to enrol for September.

“We’re expecting about a 10 per cent increase. From what I’ve been told from other schools opening in our district, it takes a few years before you see the real impact. But already our kindergarten class has got 20 students, which is a fair number,” he said.

As the only full-Francophone school in the region, École La Prairie serves students from outlying communities as well as Red Deer. Publicly-funded, French schooling is designated for the children of citizens whose first language is French and those who received their own primary schooling in French.

mfish@bprda.wpengine.com

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