Rural Alberta community celebrates hard-fought battle to keep school open
Watch above: A tiny school south of Edmonton is celebrating a new lease on life. Laurel Gregory explains.
EDMONTON – Students, parents and teachers at a small rural school south of Edmonton celebrated the end of another school year Friday afternoon. And the summer farewell event had a much more excited feel to it after the community won a tough battle to keep the school open.
At the end of May, the Wetaskiwin Regional Public School Board voted to keep Pipestone School open, after it was slated for closure due to dwindling enrolment.
“The staff and the school community are really excited. We know it was a difficult decision for the board to make,” said Wendy Maltais, principal of Pipestone School.
The decision to keep the door open came as a huge relief to Jennifer Day, who has five of her six children enrolled at the school.
“I wasn’t willing to give it up. So I fought hard.”
“It’s nice to be in these rural communities where everybody is so close and connected,” Day said. “Here, every teacher knows every student… They’re not just being influenced by one teacher in the classroom, they’re being influenced by every teacher.”
On Friday, a new beginning for Pipestone was celebrated with a barbecue and year-end party.
“We get to make these good crafts and these funny ones, and we also get to play,” said Naomi, a young student who was sad to hear there was a possibility her school would close.
“I felt that it was bad because I thought that none of us would go to school ever again.”
READ MORE: Wetaskiwin schools will stay open
But while there is relief, parents and staff know there is still much work to be done.
“The community also is aware that this is a reprieve,” explained Maltais, “and that they need to do a lot of work with provincial government to establish some different ground rules for rural schools in Alberta and funding for rural schools in Alberta.”
Day, who is a member of the Friends of Rural Wetaskiwin Schools group, says the fight is worth it. She is pushing the province to move toward a funding model that is based on the needs of each school, rather than on a per student basis.
“We certainly don’t want to end up in the same position five or even 10 years from now. I’ll still have kids in the school system at that point and I want this school to be around not only for my kids, but for the generations to come because it has so much to offer.”
Friday’s celebration also included a visit from Edmonton Oil Kings centre Cole Benson. Benson, whose mother has taught at Pipestone for several years, brought the Memorial Cup with him and took time to sign autographs and visit with the students.
With files from Laurel Gregory, Global News.
© Shaw Media, 2014