May 10, 2018 4:51 pm
Updated: May 10, 2018 6:41 pm

‘It’s risen from the ashes’: Two years after nearly closing down, Riverview Elementary is thriving

WATCH: Riverview Elementary School in Verdun was set to close its doors two years ago. As Global's Dan Spector reports, the community rallied to save the school and now it is thriving thanks to a change in focus.

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Riverview Elementary in Verdun was all set to close its doors two years ago. The English school’s enrolment numbers were dwindling, and it seemed the beloved school had reached the end of the line.

“It was kind of a scary time for everyone here,” said Grade 6 student Ciaran Williams.

The Lester B. Pearson School Board had decided Riverview students would join another school close by, but the community rallied to save their school, and the decision was reversed.

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READ MORE: Parents reeling over closure of decades-old Riverview Elementary

“Two years later, I think about how far we’ve come and I am so proud,” said principal Debi Dixon.

Today, she’s bursting with pride, because enrolment has gone up.

“Last year, we were at an enrolment of 199, and next year, we have 242 students registered. I think it’s pretty amazing, given that sentence that it was time to close because of dwindling numbers, to next year — 242 students,” Dixon told Global News.

The staff believe a key curriculum change has something to do with it.

“It’s a focus on science, technology, engineering, arts and math,” Dixon said.

The school won a grant last year, and was able to outfit kids with computers. Teacher Jo-Ann Connoly-Boutin is using very different words than she was when she began at Riverview 30 years ago. Now, she’s teaching students about computer programming and mining minerals on Mars.

“Twenty-first-century learning is so different than what it was when I started 30 years ago. It’s really important these children have hands-on, and they can contribute to society later in life,” she said.

Her classroom is an ode to a future where people live on Mars. It’s complete with a huge model of the red planet made by the students. Connoly-Boutin just came back from NASA to learn the program. She paid her own way.

“I went to Houston on a conference for three days in February. It’s the space explorers educator conference,” the teacher told Global News.

Things are not perfect at Riverview — 242 students are still shy of their capacity of 378, but there are advantages to having extra space. For example, an empty classroom has been converted into a brand new hands-on science lab thanks to some Concordia students who raised $5,000 to donate computers, robots and iPads.

“I’m kind of happy our school’s small because it’s like a small community here. Everyone knows each other,” said student Williams.

City Coun. Sterling Downey went to the school when he was a boy, and was among those who fought hard to save it.

READ MORE: Parents fighting to keep Riverview Elementary School open

“This is a true story of the community rising up and winning a fight,” he told Global News.

A new father himself, he sees a bright future for his son at Riverview.

“These students that fought to keep this school open are going to be the adults who are going to look out for my son when he’s here,” Downey said.

Riverview is showing off all their tech success to parents at an open house on Thursday night.

The principal says it’s only the beginning.

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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