Grade 3 teacher Laura Anhorn leads her students in a French lesson at École St. Thomas.

WCR PHOTO | GLEN ARGAN

Grade 3 teacher Laura Anhorn leads her students in a French lesson at École St. Thomas.

November 4, 2013
CHRIS MILLER
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER

The French immersion program at the Lloydminster Catholic School Division has experienced tremendous growth, with enrollments increasing from 143 students in 2002 to 438 students today – growth that is expected to continue.

Even with six additional portables added to accommodate more students, the program outgrew its old building. This led the school division to open two new schools – École St. Thomas and Mother Teresa Early Childhood Education Centre.

Director of Education Doug Robertson said the opening of the two schools is aimed at meeting students' needs and is a key component of the school division's learning strategy.

"A number of years ago we were granted permission to build a new expanded school, with a capacity of up to 550 students. That's when the journey really began," said Robertson.

The newly-constructed École St. Thomas building opened its doors to students on Aug. 26. A grand opening ceremony was held Oct. 25, attended by political dignitaries and Archbishop Richard Smith.

"It was recognition of a very significant growth where we had 15 kids in a grade all the way up to – in the last four years – over 80 kindergarten registrations. We've seen an incredible growth in the program," said Robertson.

Being in Alberta's Border City, the Lloydminster Catholic School Division is both an Alberta school district and a Saskatchewan school division. While it works under the auspices of the Saskatchewan Ministry of Education, bi-provincial regulations must be sorted out administratively.

"When it comes to capital, both provinces contribute according to our enrollment breakdowns. École St. Thomas is built on the Alberta side, but funding is based on the number of Alberta students, and Saskatchewan pays according to the number of Saskatchewan students," he said.

Robertson said that especially over the past three years, enrollments at all of Lloydminster's Catholic schools have increased at a rate equivalent to a small elementary school every year.

Principal Lisa Marie Kreese said parents looking to enroll their children must be reminded what École St. Thomas is all about. There's more to the school than learning the French language . . . there's also the Catholicity.

About 10 years ago, she and her teachers started educating the community in the values that the school stood for, as well as the opportunities available when they choose French immersion.

Principal Lisa Marie Kreese emphasizes the Catholic nature of École St. Thomas.

WCR PHOTO | GLEN ARGAN

Principal Lisa Marie Kreese emphasizes the Catholic nature of École St. Thomas.

"In some schools you'll see a heavy promotion on anti-bullying or a moral character program. We have really worked to permeate the Catholic faith through all of those things," said Kreese.

Rather than putting emphasis and drawing attention to anti-bullying for one specific week, students are taught to treat everyone with the dignity that they deserve, everyone is created in God's image, and everyone should be treated fairly all the time.

"Although we talk about bullying behaviours, we just think it goes a little deeper than that," she said.

LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOUR

"It's about who you are as a human being all the time and how you treat everybody. We try to model that with our staff on a daily basis, the staff towards the children, students to students, staff to parents, parents to parents, everywhere."

The school's overarching theme is to love your neighbour as yourself. The schools' mantra is said every day: "I care deeply, I share generously and I help willingly."

"Through our discipline, the way our routines and classrooms are set up, our assemblies and everything that we teach the kids falls under that as an overhead," she said.

Kreese said parents wanted to send their children to École St. Thomas because of its French immersion programming.

"Understanding that we are part of the Catholic school system, when they come here, they have to embody everything that we teach the children," she said.

"They don't get to choose us because we're a French school. They choose us because we're a French Catholic school."

The school division has put new emphasis on early childhood development. This is evident in the Mother Teresa Early Childhood Education Centre, which opened to students Aug. 26. It is situated in the former École St. Thomas building.

It provides programming for city-wide playschool, pre-kindergarten and full-time kindergarten programs.

"We're seeing such phenomenal results," said Robertson.

GRADUATION RATE

"We went from a provincial average of a 75 per cent graduation rate up to 94 per cent over the last 10 years. We say our graduation rates rest with our elementary system as much as our high school programming."

With that precept in mind, the new Mother Teresa School is another step towards not only readying children for kindergarten and elementary school, but also in boosting graduation rates years down the road.

"Kindergarten, once again, is that crucial step of beginning in the school system to set these kids up for success, with the intention that all kids will be at grade level by the end of Grade 3. It's a rather significant initiative," he said.