Several parents from the growing town of Niverville, known predominantly for its Mennonite beginnings, made a request for a French language school to be built in their community.
La Division scolaire franco-manitobaine (DSFM) School Division Superintendent, Alain Laberge says they received an official letter back in March.
“It was brought up at one of our meetings and we discussed it in one of our working sessions with the trustees. Then we began collecting all the information we needed to begin the process, like researching StatsCan to see how many possible Francophone parents there were in Niverville. Then we looked at our school in Ile des Chenes to see how many students were from Niverville. And so the decision was made to add it to our list of new DSFM schools and we made the request to the Manitoba Minister of Education.”
Laberge says, what they discovered was that there were about 80 students being driven to the DSFM school in Ile des Chenes every day.
“It’s like a milk run, with many stops. It can take 50 minutes to an hour to go to school and another 50 minutes an hour to bring the students back to Niverville. That’s a pretty long time. So, what we want at DSFM is to have neighborhood schools, so that kids are not that far from their homes, giving them the opportunity to play together afterward. So, the choice to request a DSFM school for Niverville was easy.”
When asked how many students would be needed to open up a DSFM school in Niverville, Laberge says they need about 25 to 30 families to confirm they would register their children at the new school. And because there are already 80 students from Niverville attending Gabriel Roy in Ile des Chene, he says, “We think we have the numbers. That's not a problem for us.”
In turn, building a DSFM school in Niverville would also benefit Ile des Chenes.
“That means there will be room for more students in Ile des Chenes, which already has 7 portable classrooms, so we lack space there too.”
Laberge says DSFM is holding an Open House on Tuesday, May 30th in Ile des Chenes, where anyone from Niverville is invited to attend. Then after the meeting, they will collect the information and make a presentation to the Minister of Education regarding a new DSFM school in Niverville.
He notes their existing projects include a DSFM school for Sage Creek (Winnipeg) which has architect drawings in place and the work has gone to Tender. They also have a school coming to Brandon. And as soon as a shovel is in the ground there, “Niverville will become our first priority.”
Laberge says, there has recently been a huge demand for more French language schools in our province and in southeast Manitoba.
“We’ve had to expand Ecole Saint Joachim in La Broquerie as we're over 500 students there. So, yes the need is growing.”
He notes another reason for more DSFM schools is that parents don’t want to travel 45 minutes one way, to bring their child to school.
“And with only seven DSFM schools in Winnipeg, we could probably use three or four more schools there to fulfill our mandate. Then there’s Ile des Chenes, Grand Point, and Niverville, all places we’ve had our eyes on. We’ve also received requests from other places, like Winkler.”
Laberge explains why being able to offer French language schools to students is so valuable.
“We believe it's important for our population, our communities, to have a school nearby they can attend, but it's also the culture. I mean, it's one of the differences between French Immersion and a French Language school. In immersion you learn to speak French, in a French school, you learn in the French language. If a student doesn’t know French, it doesn't take long before they get it."
"It’s interesting because many people have lost their French (language) just because there is no school in their area. Like 40 years ago in Niverville, there was no option to attend a French school at all. So, if you were a French parent, you probably sent your kids to an English school. So, they lost the language.”
“We want to get these students back, we want to help them with their culture and their language, of course, but their heritage.”
Laberge notes that there are currently 24 DSFM schools in Manitoba with approximately 6,000 students in full-time education.