Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia's francophone board bucks enrolment decline trend

An increasing number of Halifax parents with francophone backgrounds want the chance to send their children to French school closer to home.

Conseil Scolaire Acadien Provincial faces call for new school on Halifax peninsula

Young students are busy at work at École des Beaux-Marais in Porters Lake. The school is one of several with the Conseil Scolaire Acadien Provincial in the Halifax region. (Radio-Canada)

An increasing number of Halifax parents with francophone backgrounds want the chance to send their children to a French school closer to home.

The province's Acadian and francophone school board, Conseil Scolaire Acadien Provincial, is bucking Nova Scotia's declining enrollment trend, so much so that its Halifax-area schools are becoming overcrowded. 

There are several CSAP schools in the Halifax region: École Beaubassin on Larry Uteck Boulevard, École Beau-Joli and École Carrefour in Dartmouth, École des Beaux-Marais in Porters Lake, and École du Grand-Portage in Lower Sackville. 

According to the Education Department's latest enrolment numbers, there are 5,474 students enrolled at CSAP schools in Nova Scotia this year, about 2,300 of whom are in the Halifax region. 

Francophone advocacy group Conseil communautaire du Grand-Havre said the number of students in the Halifax region has jumped 6.5 per cent from last year, and a whopping 42 per cent jump from five years ago.

However, the closest CSAP school to the Halifax peninsula is École Beaubassin near the Bedford Highway, making for a long commute during rush hour. 

'Would help francophone culture'

Julie Chamagne is francophone but her partner is anglophone. The couple is questioning whether sending their child to French school is worth the effort. (Radio-Canada)

Julie Chamagne is francophone but her partner is anglophone. The couple is questioning whether sending their child to French school is worth the effort. Their son is three and a half and approaching school age.

"I'm francophone so I would very much like him to go to a French school."

Like many parents she works full time. She said her work is flexible but she can't, for instance, take and hour and a half or more out of her day to pick up her son for an appointment. 

"I already work, like many parents do, 9 to 5 and sometimes even 6," Chamagne said. "I know that sending him to Beaubassin would mean an hour earlier in the morning to get ready for the bus.

"It's something that would help francophone culture, in general, if it were that much easier to send a child with a francophone parent to French school if it's nearby as opposed to the added logistical and distance problems of Bedford or Dartmouth." 

Trying to find solutions

Dianne Racette, acting superintendent of CSAP, said she has met with a committee of parents who want to open a French school on the peninsula

"They presented to the board the work that they have been doing over the last year, trying to find solutions for the overpopulation at Beaubassin," she said.

Racette said it's not a new request. 

"In 2012, the management team hired a consultant to look at the population in our schools in the central area of the province."

She said the consultant came up with two recommendations: Open a school in Lower Sackville or open a school in peninsular Halifax. 

Racette said opening a school in peninsular Halifax was not an option because there is no space; CSAP instead opened École du Grand-Portage in Lower Sackville.

Searching for a solution

CSAP has been in touch with the Halifax Regional School Board, waiting for a school to come available closer to downtown. Racette said HRSB is reviewing some schools in the north end.

"I don't know what the result of that review will be, so that is one proposal that the parents brought in. They also spoke about [the former schools of] St. Pat's and Bloomfield — right now those two buildings [are unavailable]."

Racette also said CSAP has looked at other solutions, such as opening a school on the peninsula in collaboration with Université Sainte-Anne and Conseil communautaire du Grand-Havre.

She said it would include a daycare, university campus, public school and offices for the community centre, but there's no land or financing for such a project.

"There has been a lot of work going on and it will continue to go on until we find a solution," said Racette.

With files from Rebecca Martel, Radio-Canada

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