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These students didn't have a cafeteria or a gym. Now they may have the coolest school in Quebec

Students at Metis Beach School in the Lower St. Lawrence now have access to state-of-the-art equipment, gender neutral bathrooms and ergonomic chairs, after the school underwent a complete overhaul.

Students are back at Metis Beach School after waiting two years for new building

There are now enough lockers at Metis Beach School for the 80 or so students, who used to pile their belongings in the hallways. (Peter Tardif/CBC)

Grade 11 student Nicolas Bé​langer believes the view from the brand new cafeteria at Metis Beach School is the best in town.

"It really captures the essence of Metis. It's like a photograph," Bélanger said, of the floor to ceiling windows looking out on the St. Lawrence River and the red lighthouse in the distance. 

The 80 or so students at the small English school in the Lower St. Lawrence region know how lucky they are — two years ago, they didn't even have a cafeteria, nor did they have a gym.

With the construction of the $10-million building, students from kindergarten to Secondary 5 are now getting used to a whole new learning environment.

Students at Metis Beach School say the cafeteria is their favorite part because of the gorgeous views, overlooking the St. Lawrence River. (Peter Tardif/CBC)

For the past two years, students were being bused to a school 40 kilometres away in Sainte-Jeanne-d'Arc ​while their new school was taking shape, incorporating parts of the original building, built in 1929.

The space had grown too small for the number of students — teachers had to hold phys-ed classes outside, and lunch was eaten inside the classrooms.

Every spare inch was used to store learning materials and students' snowsuits and boots, because there weren't enough lockers.

School principal Brett Mitchell remembers having to duck under the ventilation system to get into the classrooms.
The principal of Metis Beach School, Brett Mitchell, says it took more than a decade and a whole community to build the new school. (Peter Tardif/CBC)

"It's a complete transformation from where we were to where we are now," he said.

Students get their say

Mitchell said it took over a decade, and the input of the entire community, to secure the government funds needed for the reconstruction.

When it came time to design the school, he turned to those who would use it every day: students and teachers.

"I'm really lucky I've got amazing teachers who had this vision in their head of how they wanted an amazing classroom that was designed for student comfort," said Mitchell.

This translated into classrooms with different seating areas, where kids with more energy can sit on bouncing balls, while those who want more peace and quiet can sit in egg chairs to read.
Classrooms have all kinds of new chairs, like this rubber ball chair, perfect for students with a little more energy who can bounce and roll. (Peter Tardif/CBC)

Grade 3 and 4 teacher Hélène Sim, a Metis Beach graduate herself, said having that variety seems to be making the students happier.

"They want to be in that classroom, they want to learn and they make the effort," said Sim, who is a fan of the large windows that let in tons of sunlight.

Gender-neutral bathrooms

The bathroom situation was also a problem. With only two stalls for boys, there were 20-minute line-ups at times, such as when students were getting ready to go outside before gym class.

Not only are there enough bathrooms now, students asked to have gender-neutral bathrooms. Mitchell said the discussions started after American high school student Gavin Grimm sued his school board after he was barred from using the boy's bathroom in 2014.

Jesse Beaudin stands next to one of Metis Beach School's gender-neutral bathrooms, an idea that came directly from the students. (Peter Tardif/CBC)

"Our kids were mortified — they couldn't understand this. They said, 'How can you stop people from going to the bathroom?'" said Mitchell.

After a debate among students, they settled on private bathrooms that were gender neutral.

The student body was consulted on a variety of other things they wanted in the new building, including what they wanted their new gym to look like.

With retractable basketball hoops, soft flooring and bright lighting, it's one more reason for kids to be excited when they get on the school bus in the morning.

At least that's what Grade 5 student Eric Howard-Jones lets on.

"I get more [out of school] because I'm more excited for the lessons," he said.

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