Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of February 23, 2004
Christ-King goes to the mall
Stettler Catholic school opened in newly-renovated medical centre
By RAMON GONZALEZ
WCR Staff Writer
Catholic students in this town of 5,000 spend most of their day in the mall. No, they are not skipping school. On the contrary. They go to the mall in order to attend school.
Welcome to Christ-King Catholic Elementary, a four-room school that has been operating at a remodelled medical centre in the northwest section of Stettler Mall since last September.
The small school, with 31 students from kindergarten to Grade 6, is one of four tenants in the largely empty mall along with Peavey Mart, Zellers and Instaloans.
"It's a very quiet place and we have our own space for us to do what needs to be done in a school," said principal Len Kachuk, who leads a teaching staff of four.
"I think it is a unique way to get Catholic education off the ground," commented David Keohane, superintendent of the East Central School Division. "I think it is a good solution because it's really meeting our needs right now."
Lobbying for three years
Catholic parishioners, who along with the school division, have been lobbying the government for a school for about three years, got behind the school-in-the-mall idea last June when they realized the vacant medical facility was their best option.
"They looked at available space in (public) schools first and then, when no suitable space could be arranged, the option of setting up the school here was looked at," Kachuk explained. "They knew the medical clinic was available. I don't think they really could see it as being a school but they wanted to be in a place by themselves."
Alberta Infrastructure spent $96,000 last year to transform the former medical clinic into a bright, colourful elementary school with four classrooms, a computer room, ample hallway space and a large common area. All classrooms have large windows looking out into the gathering area which is used for daily and weekly liturgical gatherings.
Room to grow
There are a few small empty rooms as well as larger ones being used for storage. If needed, enough space is available to build another classroom.
There is no schoolyard to speak of but students play in green areas during recess and visit public parks quite often. For gym time, they go to Waverly Public School nearby.
Archbishop Thomas Collins toured the school Jan. 28 and then presided at the official opening and blessing afterwards.
Inside the school, the visitor is likely to forget the connection to the mall for Christ-King looks like any other school, if not more inviting.
"I guess you don't see the school as being in a mall, even though it is attached to it," commented Suzanne McCrea, who has a daughter in Grade 3 and another child starting kindergarten next year. "The main focus isn't the mall. It's the school."
A smiling portrait of Pope John Paul near the reception area welcomes visitors. Banners with Scripture readings, school projects and a large crucifix hang prominently from the blue walls of the hallway.
Through the large windows one can see classes in progress, the classrooms' walls cluttered with colourful cutouts, posters and lettering.
Each classroom has a prayer corner filled with religious symbols such as wheat, a candle, a crucifix and a Bible - all aimed at reminding students that the classroom is more than a place of study.
"We offer a whole range of elementary programs, including a full time kindergarten program," Kachuk said. "There are no programs like ESL or French but we do a lot of music with the students."
Besides the Born of the Spirit Series, the students regularly participate in liturgies, noted the principal. "We gather every morning for Morning Prayer and the teachers use every opportunity to permeate the Catholic teaching into all subjects."
McCrea, one of several parents who volunteer to prepare and serve students a hot lunch every two weeks, is glad she moved her daughter Alison from the public system to Christ-King. "Here, there is not as much structure," she said. "Everybody can play together as a group and it's much more family oriented."
She likes Christ-King's "wonderful student-teacher ratio" because it allows teachers to get to know each student and pay more attention to their individual needs. Alison has become more sharing and caring since she started at Christ-King, McCrea noted. "It's nice to have children study in a Catholic environment all day long."
"This school is fun and exciting," declared Grade 6 student Sara Detlor, one of several Christ-King students who had begun attending Mother Teresa School in neighbouring Halkirk to get a Catholic education. "Here you get a lot more attention and you get help when you need it."
Erin Longmore, 13, also attended school in Halkirk last year. "This is a pretty interesting school," the Grade 6 student said.
"I find it very exciting to be one of the first people to go to a Catholic school in town," she said. "Because the school is small, it's easy to get to know everyone by name."
Kachuk said the plan is to expand to Grades 7, 8 and 9 over the next three years.
Originally the East Central School Division wanted to set up a Catholic school in the Waverly Public School. But that proposal, the most popular among Catholic parents, didn't gain a lot of support among public trustees. Waverly has been closed for years, but is being used to house the administration offices of the Clareview public board as well as an adult learning consortium.
Keohane realizes the Waverly proposal may look out of line now considering Christ-King's small numbers but says it is still the best option for the future.
"The numbers that we got at the start of the school year probably merits us being where we are," he said. "But when we reach 60 students, we are going to start pressing the government for a bigger school and the Waverly School would be one of the options."