BEAUMONT – About six years ago, parishioners from St. Vital Parish in Beaumont asked about bringing Catholic education to their community.
That led to the opening of Académie Saint-André Academy in rented accommodations two years ago. This fall, the school population leapt from about 60 students in 2010 to more than 200.
Now, the St. Thomas Aquinas Roman Catholic Separate Regional Division (STAR) is on the way to giving Académie Saint-André Academy a permanent home. A groundbreaking ceremony was held Nov. 2 to mark the start of construction on the town's first Catholic school.
Jamie McNamara, superintendent for STAR, said he anticipates more than 300 students will be enrolled in the Beaumont school a year from now. And when the new kindergarten to Grade 9 Catholic school opens its doors in September 2014, it should meet its 500-student capacity.
Three partners (STAR Catholic Schools, Black Gold Regional Division and the Town of Beaumont) are developing the complex that will incorporate Académie Saint-André, a public school for 700 students in kindergarten to Grade 9 and a town meeting space.
Student enrolment has climbed rapidly throughout the region served by the far-flung STAR Catholic Schools, which administers schools in Drayton Valley, Lacombe, Leduc, Ponoka and Wetaskiwin.
Both Leduc and Beaumont, in particular, have been handicapped by space issues, said MacNamara. Parents in those communities have been turned away due to lack of space for students and programs.
The population boom's strain can be seen in classroom sizes. Enrollment for the division jumped by more than eight per cent (271 students) for the current school year, and in the last three years has grown by 28 per cent.
One of the biggest increases has occurred in Beaumont, one of Canada's fastest growing communities. The town has a population of more than 12,000, with 25 per cent under the age of 14.
Académie Saint-André Academy, which added Grade 4 this school year, had a 43 per cent enrollment increase (69 students) this year alone.
"Basically it will be the first Catholic school in Beaumont. There's a need for this," said McNamara. "We are confident that when the school opens we will be at full capacity."
Académie Saint-André Academy is named after St. André Bessette, the humble doorkeeper for the Holy Cross order in Montreal whose devotion to St. Joseph led to the construction of St. Joseph's Oratory, the world's largest shrine to St. Joseph.
The school name is easily identified as Catholic, readily encourages students to emulate the ideals and virtues of this individual, as well as signifying a link to Beaumont's French heritage.
McNamara said parents view STAR schools as desirable for their children and they value the Catholic, Christ-centred education they provide.