PEI

Despite recent expansion, long wait-list remains at French daycare in Summerside

A French early childhood education centre in Summerside, P.E.I., is celebrating the completion of a long-awaited expansion, one officials say will help them serve more families, but it won't be enough to meet demand.

'It's sad that we can't accommodate every single child,' says association official

Officials with the Association of Francophone Early Childhood Education Centres of P.E.I. say much thought went into planning the expansion at Le Jardin des Étoiles, including making sure there was ample space for children to move around. (Julien Lecacheur/Radio-Canada)

A French early childhood education centre in Summerside, P.E.I., is celebrating the completion of a long-awaited expansion, one officials say will help them serve more families, but it won't be enough to meet demand.

Le Jardin des Étoiles can now accommodate 36 more children.

"It's a good feeling to be able to finally have these spots, to be able to accommodate more families that are wanting their child to learn the French language," said director Katera Arsenault.

She said she regularly receives calls from families wanting to enrol their children in French-speaking child care. But once the new spots are filled, there will still be more than 70 families left on the wait-list — and Arsenault said many of them could be waiting at least a year.

Arsenault said the expansion's design features open spaces and "the materials are very neutral, so it's not too overstimulating in the rooms for the kids."

Kathleen Couture, executive director of the Association of Francophone Early Childhood Education Centres of P.E.I., said planning for the $1.9 million, federally-funded expansion started several years ago, with construction taking almost two years.

Katera Arsenault is the director of Le Jardin des Étoiles, an early childhood education centre in Summerside, P.E.I. She said the expansion will allow them to care for 36 additional children. (Jessica Doria-Brown/CBC)

"When we started out, we knew what we wanted," said Couture. "We knew we wanted very low windows so that even the toddlers and the infants could see outside."

Other features include water taps and drains inside the classrooms, lots of storage space and ample room for kids to move around.

As part of the new expansion at Le Jardin des Étoiles, water taps and drains have been added to the classrooms. (Julien Lecacheur/Radio-Canada)

Couture said Jardin des Étoiles now has the capacity to serve 110 children daily: 80 in the preschool program for kids zero to five, and 30 in the afterschool program, Club Jeunesse, which now has its own designated rooms thanks to the expansion.

There's also new office space for the Association of Francophone Early Childhood Education Centres of P.E.I.

Couture said the centre's expansion has been needed for years because of a growing population in Summerside and increased interest in French education, especially among "rights holders."

"They may have grandparents or great-grandparents who were francophone who are assimilated into English," she said. "People are wanting to go back to the roots and get their children that French education."

Kathleen Couture, executive director of the Association of Francophone Early Childhood Education Centres in P.E.I., said she's happy to see the continued demand for French education, but wishes they didn't have to leave families on long wait-lists. (Jessica Doria-Brown/CBC )

Long wait-lists are a provincewide problem, said Couture.

"It's sad that we can't accommodate every single child, and we would like nothing less than to have every single child who wishes to have early childhood education in French to be able to access that service," she said.

"We're doing the best we can with what we have, but we know that in the future, we'll see more increases."

Additional space needed Island-wide

Couture said talks are underway to expand centres provincewide over the next several years. Next on the list is the centre in Evangeline, with construction set to get underway in 2023.

The most pressing need is in Charlottetown.

"We currently have 90 children, we have 60 preschool and 30 school age," said Couture. "We could easily open a second centre for another 80 preschool and 30 school age, and we'd still be full."

A new space that's part of the addition at Le Jardin des Étoiles includes large, low windows so even the smallest children can see outdoors. (Julien Lecacheur/Radio-Canada)

She hopes to work with the province and feds to improve access in Charlottetown.

Couture said recruitment for early childhood educators has been made easier. In the past four years, educators with a two-year diploma have seen their hourly rage increase by $7 per hour, which has helped draw qualified staff to the Island.

"Our salaries are wonderful right now," she said. "We are one of the highest in the Atlantic provinces and almost one of the highest in Canada ... We're finally competitive."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jessica Doria-Brown

Videojournalist

Jessica Doria-Brown is a videojournalist with CBC in P.E.I. Originally from Toronto, Jessica has worked for CBC in Newfoundland & Labrador, New Brunswick, and Ontario.

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