Full-day kindergarten satellite to open in Fort William First Nation

A new agreement between the Thunder Bay Catholic District School Board and Fort William First Nation has laid the groundwork for a "pilot school" in the community, offering full-day kindergarten starting in the fall.

The pilot school, to be at the local community centre, will be a satellite of St. Ann school

The Thunder Bay Catholic District School Board and Fort William First Nation announced a new satellite for St. Ann School in the community that will offer full-day kindergarten, starting in September, 2018. (Matt Prokopchuk / CBC)

A new agreement between the Thunder Bay Catholic District School Board and Fort William First Nation has laid the groundwork for a "pilot school" in the community, offering full-day kindergarten starting in the fall.

The initiative was announced Thursday. It will see a classroom open as a satellite of St. Ann School at the First Nation's community centre in September, 2018. It's designed to help alleviate "challenges for younger children and parents," caused by the distance between the First Nation and the school in Thunder Bay, according to a written release.

"For us, it means an exciting time and an exciting journey that we're about to embark on," Fort William Chief Peter Collins told reporters. "This is only a step in the right direction and ... maybe a long-term opportunity for ... schools in our community."

Collins said the last school that operated in Fort William closed down about 50 years ago. He added there have been attempts in the intervening years to offer grade-school education in the community, but nothing could be finalized.

Starting with the young students is key, Collins said, as it offers an opportunity to "inject our language," as part of the curriculum. The schooling may also include some land-based teaching as well, while still following Ontario curriculum guidelines, officials said.

"The young ones are the ones that pick it up the easiest," he said. "We're hoping that this is a step in the right direction to regaining that language and instilling it in our young people."

School could expand to grade 2

If all goes well, officials said more classes could be offered in subsequent years that would allow for schooling up to grade two.

"We still want our kids to go to the city to integrate into the city and be involved in education there also," said Fort William Coun. Phillip Pelletier, who also serves as a trustee with the Catholic board. "Get the kids in there [and] learn about ... how to mingle, how to participate."

"That's going to be important for our kids."

Collins noted that, with the James Street swing bridge still closed to vehicle traffic, some families will feel safer having to make fewer trips into town with young children.
Chief Peter Collins of the Fort William First Nation (Heather Kitching / CBC)

Plans to offer daycare in the community are also in the work, Collins said.

Talks began in fall, 2017

Discussions for a satellite school at Fort William started in the fall, according to Omer Belisle, the superintendent of education with the Catholic board.

"We started out with about four, five site visits, took a look at some numbers and the programming and thought the best way to move forward would be through a pilot project offering full-day kindergarten," he said, adding that expanding to higher grades is more of a "long-term" goal.

"Short-term, we're looking to ensure that this is successful, that the programming is good and that we serve the needs of the community."

The pilot will officially run for one year, Belisle said but can be expanded. He said it will build on other initiatives the board has launched in Fort William.

"We've actually been out here for about 25 years, offering an after-school program," he said. "So, this isn't really new to us as far as our relationship with Fort William First Nation and partnerships."

"I think education's changing and I think it's important that we change with it."