'School of last resort': Cornwall Alternative School loses funding in 2019-2020 provincial budget

Cornwall Alternative School is losing their funding at the end of June, a school official said.

Cornwall Alternative School is for at-risk youth or youth with specific needs

Cornwall Alternative School is losing its funding in Regina. (Heidi Atter/CBC)

Cornwall Alternative School in Regina is losing its funding. The change came in the 2019-2020 provincial budget.

Tara Amyotte is a former student and has stayed in touch over the years. At 32, she's finishing up her social work degree and says it was the school support that got through to her. 

Tara Amyotte is a former Cornwall Alternative School student. (Submitted by Tara Amyotte)

The students' needs aren't to be back in the school system, Amyotte said. Instead, some students just need basic love, support and belonging that the school offers, she said.

Being at the school was crucial to her, Amyotte said.

"I probably would have died had it not been for them," she said.

"They, again like not only supported my education needs but when I started going there I was an at-risk youth, I was addicted, you know, it was a life of crime."

Cornwall Alternative School taught her traditional cultural ways and values as well, she said. 

"I think this is one of the programs in Regina that absolutely cannot shut down. It's needed," she said.

"They are going to fund us until the end of June," David Halvorsen said.

Halvorsen has been the Cornwall Alternative School Board Chairman for decades. On Wednesday he was called to a meeting and thought they'd be getting more funding, he said.

"It was a bit unexpected, needless to say."

Cornwall Alternative School teaches traditional cultural practices and has an identifiable mural on the side. (Heidi Atter/CBC)

Cornwall Alternative School has been around since 1972 to meet specific students' needs, he said. They do that with their programming and small class sizes. He said they currently have 40 children at the school.

They provide breakfast, the students make lunch to learn cooking skills, they get rewards if they continue showing up at school and more, Halvorsen said. There's individualized plans for each student and the staff works hard to meet specific needs.

"It's a carrot approach. There's no stick approach at our school. And in addition to the small class size, we have a boy's counsellor and a girl's counsellor." He said they also have an outreach worker who stays in touch with the kids.

Often times students will come back to visit, he said, and they have a number of success stories.

"We're the school of last resort," Halvorsen said. "If they weren't with us, most of them say they wouldn't be in school. It's as simple as that."

Cornwall Alternative School's Board Chairperson said they hope they can find a way to keep it open. (Heidi Atter/CBC)

Amyotte said the school is also about reconciliation for Indigenous Peoples.

"It's the healing aspect, it's everything that TRC calls for, right?" she said. "Like our health, our education, our child welfare. It's everything in this little tiny building."

"I really knew nothing about my heritage before I started at the school," she said. "A lot of these kids it's bringing that back to them. It's healing those intergenerational effects and traumas."

Cabinet had approved funding for school through 2020

In last week's budget, the province increased operating grants for qualified independent schools and historical high schools by $879,000 to a total of $10.5 million due to increased enrolment.

Halvorsen told CBC his school would need $850,000 to operate.

Cornwall was not considered a qualified independent school, rather an alternative independent school.

In 2017, cabinet approved three years of funding for Cornwall at $2.3 million of $761,000 per year. The agreement was supposed to be for Apr. 2017 to Mar. 31, 2020. 

Public gathering planned for Monday

The board is going to look at options for alternative funding, Halvorsen said. And they're going to try to reach out more with the government.

On March 25th there's a closed board meeting for the school, but also a public gathering at 5:30 p.m. for people to come out and show support at the school, Amyotte said.

"The more the merrier."