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Enrolment up as Fort McMurray schools re-open for first full academic year since wildfire

As Fort McMurray schools head into their first full academic year after a devastating wildfire in 2016, school districts are projecting increased enrolment.

'We are encouraged by that because we know there is more growth to happen' superintendent says

Decorations adorn Becaon Hill Public School ready to welcome students back. The school hasn't opened to students since May 3rd, 2016 when a wildfire ripped through the community. (David Thurton/ CBC)

As Fort McMurray schools head into their first full academic year after a devastating wildfire in May 2016, school districts are projecting increased enrolment.

It's a sign Fort McMurray's education system is returning to normal after the fire temporarily shut down five schools in 2016 and student enrolment fell by as much as seven per cent in some districts.

"We are encouraged by that because we know there is more growth to happen in the community," Doug Nicholls,  superintendent of Fort McMurray Public Schools, said. "Even with the economic situation."

The public school board expects to welcome 250 more students this year than in the 2016-2017 academic year, when enrolment fell to 5,281 students.
As Fort McMurray schools head into their second academic year after a devastating wildfire, school districts are projecting increased enrollment. 1:30

George McGuigan, superintendent of the Fort McMurray Catholic School District, said he expects his schools will see 200 to 300 more students added to last year's approximately 5,600 students.

"Since we opened up our schools we're getting new registrations. People [are] still moving into the city, hoping to start a new career and life for their families," McGuigan said. "We're optimistic our numbers are going to go up."

Wildfire-closed schools reopening

For the first time since the wildfire, all of the city's schools will reopen, including four in the hardest-hit communities of Beacon Hill and Abasand.

Christina Gordon Public School in Timberlea, Beacon Hill Public School and neighbouring Good Shepherd Catholic School in Beacon Hill, Abasand's Father Beauregard School and École Boreal did not open in September 2016 after the wildfire.

Construction vehicles operate alongside homes and schools in Beacon Hill. (David Thurton/ CBC)

Students attended classes in nearby communities while their schools were repaired and school boards assessed whether enrolment numbers were sufficient to reopen the buildings.

At Beacon Hill Public School, principal Nancy Ball said teachers have been busy moving and unpacking boxes of supplies, ensuring the school is ready for the first day of classes on Tuesday. Ball said they are eager to be part of the community's ongoing rebuilding process.

"The school is the hub of the community," Ball said. "Absolutely, I can see this facility as being an important part of the return to Beacon Hill."

Follow David Thurton, CBC's Fort McMurray correspondent, on FacebookTwitter or contact him via email.