Last Updated: Tuesday - 01/04/2011
March 12, 2001
Schools joined at the hip
Sylvan Lake's first Catholic school part of larger joint facility
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER
SYLVAN LAKE — When students at Mother Teresa School say they're neighbours with a public school, they're not talking about some school across the street or at the other end of the soccer field. They're talking about the school that sits on the same lot, and is connected to them via a common area consisting of three gymnasiums, a commercial kitchen and fine arts centre.
"It's quite a ways to walk from a hallway in our school to a hallway in the other school," said Rick Foret, principal of the kindergarten to Grade 8 school, which will include Grade 9 next year. "(The building) is almost a block long."
Sylvan Lake's first Catholic school shares a facility with Fox Run Public Junior High School. It is the second school built by the Red Deer Regional Catholic School Division that involves a shared facility - a type of structure that many Catholic trustees believe threatens a school's Catholic identity.
St. Patrick's School in north Red Deer has been operating on the same site with a public school since 1982.
"It's two distinct schools," Foret said of the new $14-million dollar facility. "I understand some people's concerns. But this works, it is working."
The school will have its official opening, March 14, with a Mass celebrated by Archbishop Thomas Collins.
The two schools share a commercial kitchen and fine arts centre. They each have an individual gym and share a third gym, all of which open into one large gymnasium. The common area is also considered a community centre because it can be used by Sylvan Lake residents.
But most importantly, the school retains its Catholic identity. Every day begins with prayers. Each classroom has a prayer corner and weekly religious celebrations involve all students and staff. Father Paul Moret of Our Lady of Assumption Parish visits the school.
"This school is as significantly Catholic as any other," Foret said. A Grade 1 teacher surveyed her class earlier in the year asking them why they like going to Mother Teresa.
"Without any prompting from the teacher, one student said he liked it because they get to learn about Jesus," Foret said. "A lot of them said that. They said they liked that they get to pray."
Except for a home economics and industrial arts centre, there are no shared instructional areas. Each school has its own soccer field and playground.
Although a large majority of the students are Catholic, Foret said few of their parents are regular churchgoers. But the school's Catholic identity has given parents a greater exposure to the Church.
Little details reflect the school's Catholic identity. The light domes around the gathering area at the main entrance have black crosses on them. Even classroom windows have a cross design on them. The chapel, with its cathedral ceiling, adjacent to the gathering area, is the central point of the school.
Foret says he hand-picked his staff to ensure they not only teach the faith, but live it.
Even students at Fox Run know what school Foret is from. "Hi Catholic principal," they say when he takes a visitor on the tour of the Fox Run side.
Lunchtime and break periods are staggered, so the schools have little interaction during the day, but they do hold occasional joint activities, like dances.
Sharing a facility also helps reduce costs, said Foret.
"The other benefit is certainly for the town. It's a beautiful facility everyone can use."
There are 228 students at Mother Teresa, although it has room for 350. The district may add six classrooms and a French immersion program by 2002. With the town of Sylvan Lake steadily growing, Foret expects the school to reach capacity in the next couple of years.
But with such a facility comes challenges. Because there are few specialists at hand for particular programs, there will be a temptation to share such programs with each other.
A larger challenge are the students, many of whom have never experienced a Catholic environment. It can be difficult to introduce 10-year-olds to the idea of the love of God.
"Some of these students have never been to a Catholic school," Foret said. "They may be Catholic, but they have never been in that environment.
"Some parents haven't been to a Catholic school for a long time. Some ask me if there are still nuns in the schools."
Shared facility schools are neither better nor worse than traditional schools; they're an alternative, Foret said. It's probably not for every school division.
But school trustees and administrators from St. Albert to Grande Prairie as well as government officials have made several visits to the school since it opened.
Nor does Foret see shared facilities as a growing trend. "But people forget Red Deer has been running a shared facility school for almost 20 years. It's worked well for them."
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