PEI

P.E.I. school closure recommendations concern early years centres

School age children aren't the only ones that could be affected if schools close — preschoolers could be too.

Being located in a school 'very advantageous' for early years centres

School age children aren't the only ones that could be affected if St. Jean Elementary closes. These children go to an early years centre located in the school. (Krystalle Ramlakhan/CBC)

School age children aren't the only ones that could be affected if schools close — preschoolers could be too. 

Earlier this week a report from the Public Schools Branch recommended five schools close, including St. Jean Elementary in Charlottetown. 

Chances Family Centre runs an early years centre in the same building as St. Jean Elementary.

Ann Robertson, executive director at Chances Family Centre, is concerned about the possibility that St. Jean Elementary might close. (Krystalle Ramlakhan/CBC)

"We're concerned about that. We find it very advantageous to be physically located in a school. It very much supports that connection between the school and the community, families. [It] supports the transition of young children into preschoolers, into kindergarten," said Chances Family Centre executive director Ann Robertson.  

School location preferred

Robertson said Chances prefers to have early years centres located in a school, but it does have other centres in the community that offer the same "high quality programming" if it couldn't use the St. Jean space anymore.

The centre doesn't know that it would be affected if the school closed, but says it's committed to continuing programming and it's confident it will continue to work collaboratively with and get support from government to find solutions around space. 

"It's a great space. It's located in the neighbourhood of where many of the families and children live, so yeah it would be great if we could stay in this space in the future," said Robertson. 

The executive director of Chances Family Centre says a location inside a school is 'very advantageous' for early years centres. (Krystalle Ramlakhan/CBC)

There are 44 licensed spaces at St. Jean with Chances. There are 74 spaces in total at Chances at West Kent Elementary — 44 licensed spaces and 30 for before and after school programming, which is expanding because of demand said Robertson. 

The Chances programs at West Kent could be impacted if more school-age students are sent there with rezoning and closures. There are concerns they could be pushed out. 

Impact beyond participants

"The impact is really far greater than that because those are the children who participate, but they, most of them have older, younger, siblings and of course there's an impact on the family as well," said Robertson. "That's clearly a concern that again that domino effect would have that kind of impact on our program. So we're watching very closely." 

We'll be communicating very quickly, as soon as possible, with the Public Schools Branch … Ann Robertson Executive Director, Chances Family Centre

Now Chances is gathering as much information as it can to fully understand the potential implications and to decide how to move forward. 

"We'll be communicating very quickly, as soon as possible, with the Public Schools Branch and the Department of Education," said Robertson. 

Chances is encouraging parents to participate in the feedback process and express concerns. Robertson said she is already hearing from worried parents. 

Concerned parents

"Parents are asking questions. They're concerned. They're concerned about what's going to happen to the program, the impact on their children," said Robertson.  

Chances is encouraging parents to participate in the feedback process and express concerns. (Krystalle Ramlakhan/CBC)

"They're concerned about what it means. Is the program going to close? Is the program going to continue? Are there any possibilities that we'd be able to stay in this space. Their children have integrated into the space. Part of the goal of having them integrate into the school, it's been very successful. We use the gym, we use the school library."

Chances is open to staying in the St. Jean space if the school closed and the building was repurposed as a community space. Robertson said early years centres are an important part of the education system and hopes the Public Schools Branch will keep these centres in mind as a priority.

Chances is gathering as much information as it can to fully understand the potential implications and to decide how to move forward. (Krystalle Ramlakhan/CBC )

The Public Schools Branch said it is too early to say what would happen to the early childhood centre in a school if it closed. 

"With previous closures, the community was very involved in defining new uses for the facility, and one of the outcomes was more space for early childhood programs. It isn't possible to say whether existing programs could accommodate all requests until final decisions are made and the demand for spaces is known," said the statement from the Public Schools Branch in an email.

About the Author

Krystalle Ramlakhan is a multi-platform journalist with CBC Ottawa. She has also worked for CBC in P.E.I., Winnipeg and Iqaluit.

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