By Rana Nelson, Special to the Revelstoke Times Review
For parents, watching a child grow can be bittersweet. But for those same parents, watching a school grow is exciting!
École des Glaciers, Revelstoke’s public French-language school, opened in September 2012, with 10 students, one teacher, one classroom (K-2), and one educational assistant.
In September 2013, the school expanded to 21 students, two full-time teachers, two classrooms (K-1 and 2-3), one part-time teacher, and two educational assistants.
The parents involved in establishing École des Glaciers are proud of how the school is growing. “I feel great!” says Caroline Grenier, who worked for four years surveying parents, compiling information, and gathering signatures. “We’re right on target with our estimates: 50 students within five years.”
Grenier and her husband, Denis St.-Onge, have two children at the school, Louis, in Grade 3, and Audrey, in Grade 1.
For September 2014, about 10 new students have pre-registered (mostly in kindergarten), and if enough new students enrol, École des Glaciers will expand to three classrooms, split between the kindergarten and grade four students. A total of 32 students are needed for that to happen.
Five instructors for 30 students is a much higher ratio than most schools can offer (and in this time of teacher strikes, it may be a sore point for some), but the students definitely benefit. For some children at École des Glaciers, French is their first language, but for many it is not. Philipe Trzebiatovski teaches two days per week at École des Glaciers. He provides small-group French instruction to students who do not speak French fluently, one-on-one help for students who need work on reading and writing, and he also teaches Phys. Ed.
“By January, all students can understand what a teacher is asking them to do and can speak in sentences, even those students who knew no French in September,” he explains.
École des Glaciers is part of the public Conseil Scolaire Francophone (CSF), or Francophone Education Authority of BC and Revelstoke is part of its School District 93. The criteria for enrolment are that one parent speaks French fluently and/or that a parent or grandparent is Francophone. This means that not all students come in speaking French. According to the CSF website, “most parents of [CSF] students are part of exogamous couples…[which means] two people with different mother tongues.”
Stephanie Melnyk, who was part of the parent group working towards French immersion in Revelstoke a few years ago, enrolled her son AJ in École des Glaciers when it was apparent that immersion would not be going ahead. “AJ went in not speaking French and now we have conversations [in French]. It’s very rewarding,” she said.
Small classes and one-on-one teaching is also good for teachers (and therefore students). Joëlle Grenier, the school’s K-1 teacher, says that the two educational assistants help immensely, taking (even smaller) groups of students aside to work on certain activities. Grenier says that compared to large classes, where teachers spend much of their time managing behaviour, at École des Glaciers, she “can better see where students’ strengths and weaknesses are, and can focus on what needs improvement. I have more time for real teaching.”
She adds that “this school is like a family. The parents are very involved, and they have a great relationship with the teachers.”
There is also a good relationship with Arrow Heights Elementary, from which École des Glaciers rents their classrooms. On the picket line together at the end of June, teachers from the two schools were playing French word games with each other. École des Glaciers principal Chantale Desmarais agrees with Arrow Heights principal Todd Hicks when he says that the schools’ students “are not my kids, they are not your kids; they are our kids.”
French language is not the only focus of École des Glaciers; Francophone culture is as well. Revelstoke has a vibrant Francophone community, and the school is an active part of it. At Christmas, parents helped organize the Francophone community’s Christmas potluck at the Seniors’ Centre, parents and teachers helped staff the Francophone booth at the Carousel of Nations in February, and in April, the school co-presented the sugar shack event at Mt. MacPherson with Revelstoke’s Francophone Cultural Group.
Parent involvement also extends to a strong turnout at almost every PAC meeting. Parents were instrumental in starting the school and they continue to work towards its success. And like any PAC, they fundraise. This year, led by the two professional chefs in the PAC, the group made tourtières and sugar pies, both of which sold out quickly in the community.
Like any child, however, École des Glaciers has experienced a few growing pains. When the second classroom was established in September 2013, two supply teachers taught successively over five weeks until Joëlle Grenier was hired in October on a temporary contract. Enrolment numbers in any school are not confirmed until September, so schools cannot always offer guaranteed positions before then. For that reason, Grenier has accepted a job at the Francophone school in Nelson next year because a (well-recommended) teacher with more seniority has filled her position here, and École des Glaciers cannot yet guarantee that it will be able to open a third classroom.
Nonetheless, as Caroline Grenier says, “the rising enrollment numbers show that people see the benefits of the school and what a good program it is.” And with 12 to 14 children expected to enrol in Kindergarten in 2015, there is every indication that École des Glaciers will continue to be in the top growth percentile for its age.
Disclosure: Rana Nelson’s daughter Rachel attended École des Glaciers in Grade 1 this year and her daughter Rebecca attended Arrow Heights Elementary in Grade 5. Nelson attended PAC meetings for both.