Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of February 22, 1999
Francophone school gets a home
By RAMON GONZALEZ
WCR Staff Writer
Patrick Giguere feels right at home at Ecole La Prairie. Here he is taught in French, his parents' original language, and he is made to feel part of something unique - the francophone community.
And like most students, the 12-year-old Giguere also appreciates the attention he gets from teachers, something made possible by La Prairie's small student population.
"Since it is small you get more attention and learn more stuff," he says matter-of-factly. "Here you know everybody because it's small."
Grade 9 student Ashley McCallum agrees. "If there were over 500 students, teachers wouldn't have time to give us attention," she said.
"This is a good school. Everybody knows everyone else. There is no drugs, no violence and no alcohol." And as McCallum put it, older students won't misbehave because "we are expected to set the example for little kids."
Ecole La Prairie, a Catholic public francophone school, opened in September 1996 with 23 students.
"There was a need for French-speaking children to have a French-speaking school," noted principal Nicole Payette. "Immersion is good for children who don't speak French. It is not made for francophone children."
For two years, the school operated in leased premises in the Morrisroe district.
Today the Ecole La Prairie has its own school building, a staff of seven and 55 students from kindergarten to Grade 9. On Feb. 25, students, parents and staff will gather at the building at 4810-35 St. for the school's official opening.
The building, bought from the Red Deer Public School District for $650,000, sits on 3.3 acres and features eight classrooms, a large library, gymnasium, lunchroom and a lab with 14 computers.
"Having your own place makes you feel like you have roots, like you are not temporary," said Payette.
La Prairie offers a homelike atmosphere that is enhanced through its close partnership with parents, staff and the francophone community, Payette said.
It has a community centre for parents to chat as well as a French resource centre with videos, games and books. Having its own building also gives La Prairie a chance to offer evening courses in French.
Kindergarten teacher Julie Normandie said the school offers a full-time kindergarten program to help small children counteract the constant exposure to English. "They need kindergarten all day because as soon as they get home all they have is English," she said.
"At Ecole La Prairie children learn to be proud of their heritage and their language," Payette said.
As a Catholic school, La Prairie offers religion classes every day, noted the principal. Parents have the option to pull their children out of religion classes but that rarely happens.
Like at most Catholic schools, classes at Ecole La Prairie begin with prayer in the mornings. Liturgy is celebrated once a month with full participation of students, parents and community members. Important feasts and seasons like Christmas, Advent and Easter are also celebrated at the school.
La Prairie School is administered by the North Central Francophone Education Region School Board which is responsible for nine schools: five in Edmonton, one each in St. Albert, Legal, Lethbridge and Red Deer.