Red Deer’s Francophone community has grown considerably in the last few years and now there is a new facility to accommodate the families who wish to access French education.
École La Prairie (4810 – 35 St.) is host to 140 students with the potential to increase up to 250. The K-9 school is located next to the former school building and was part of the Alberta government’s planning for new school capital projects that incorporate new schools or considerable updates.
Last week the school held an official opening ceremony with families of students, community members and dignitaries including members of the Francophone school board.
“I’m very excited, this has been a long time coming. There is a lot of history in this school already, and the work that has been put forth in the past by the parents and community to bring us a new school,” said Principal Jean Doyon.
“It’s also a good feeling to get this celebrated today. The new school was announced in 2011 and at that point, we knew it was coming. But now, we see it growing and it was a lot of work. Today was a celebration of all of that – celebrating the results and how happy we are with the new building.”
Doyon said that the new school is a major accomplishment because it will allow the Francophone community to flourish in Red Deer. The school takes in students from many regions, including the municipalities of Innisfail, Lacombe, Blackfalds, Sylvan Lake and Ponoka.
École La Prairie’s original building was built in 1996 but had quickly become too small for the budding community and was unable to be transformed into a space that could accommodate a secondary school.
The hope for Ecole La Prairie is that the Francophone community will continue to flourish and eventually the school could encompass a high school.
“The Francophone family is there already, but we’re hoping that with this new building, we will attract more families. We know that there’s a potential for more in Red Deer and the surrounding area. We’re hoping we get more students, but it takes some commitment from the parents to do that, especially if they’re from outside of Red Deer,” said Doyon.
“It also takes some commitment from the families that don’t necessarily have both parents speaking French. But, we’re trying to make it real as a community. Kids come here to the school, speak French, live French, learn about the culture and live that culture and have a good experience learning in that environment.”
Meanwhile, Henri Lemire, superintendent of Conseil Scolaire Centre-Nord, said that it was difficult at first to figure out what each district needed compared to what was available already in the area.
The conclusion was that Ecole La Prairie would require a larger school to allow for growth in the future as the City grows.
“Our former school, beside this school, is in the sorriest state in our area – and everyone recognized that the school was old and really not sufficient to grow into a secondary school. So, a good portion of the work was done at that level with the four school districts,” he said.
“The Francophone school in Red Deer opened as a very small school in 1996 with 23 kids. As the school grew, the Francophone community kind of emerged. Some people will choose communities where there are Francophone schools, and believe in it very strongly. This school will provide this avenue for many more families to move into Red Deer.”