Parents call for new French school in historic Eastern Shore Acadian communities

Click to play video: 'Porters Lake French school outdated, over capacity: parents' Porters Lake French school outdated, over capacity: parents
WATCH: Historical Acadian communities along the Eastern Shore have seen a resurgence in recent years, with the opening of a French school in Porters Lake. But as Alexa MacLean reports, parents say they’re outdated and overcapacity. – Nov 20, 2019

Nestled along Nova Scotia’s Eastern Shore, several Acadian communities line the marshy shore.

From Chezzetcook to Grand Desert, generations of families are striving to stay in touch with their Acadian-French roots.

Which is why when École des Beaux-Marais [EdBM] opened its doors in 2011, many families were rejuvenated with the hope that the Acadian heritage of their communities would be revitalized after decades of their language being pushed out of the community.

“The school is so important to the revival of this language because there is a generation gap in the area … Most of the parents of the children in this school don’t speak French,” said Michelle Burgess, a parent of a child who attends EdBM.

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“It falls upon their grandparents who still have the language.

“The parents have this strong will and desire to revive that culture and language in the area and that’s why they’ve enrolled their children in this school.”

West Chezzetcook and Grand Désert are two Eastern Shore communities with historical Acadian roots. Alexa MacLean/Global Halifax

Burgess is one of several parents who have been advocating to have a new school built to replace the aging and overcapacity École des Beaux-Marais.

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Burgess says that EdBM was an abandoned English school before it was given to the Conseil scolaire acadien provincial (CSAP), Nova Scotia’s Francophone school board, and turned into the school it is today.

However, parents say the student population has soared since the school first opened its doors in 2011 and basic resources like a functional gym, cafeteria and library aren’t available in the overcrowded and outdated building.

“We have basically a multi-purpose room that serves as a cafeteria, it serves as a gymnasium. It’s not tall enough for kids that are in later years to play sports — they have to play volleyball on their knees,” Ashley Hilchie, another parent of an EdBM student, said.

 “We don’t have a sports field, we don’t have a computer lab, we don’t have a proper library.”

École des Beaux-Marais used to be an English school until it was turned into a French-language school in 2011. Alexa MacLean/Global Halifax

The Department of Education and Early Childhood Development recently announced its multi-year capital plan that lays out construction and renovation projects for the next five-years.

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CSAP says École des Beaux-Marais is number one on their priority list for school replacements and that the list is in the hands of the province to decide what to do with it.

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A new replacement plan for École des Beaux-Marais wasn’t announced in the recent School Capital Plan for 2019-2024.

“It’s unfortunate that the school [EdBM] is not there, they are still our priority and we’re working with the government to try to meet the needs of all of our students.

“So, we are hopeful that a new school will be announced at some point,” said Stéphanie Comeau, communications coordinator with CSAP.

A department of education spokesperson says the most ‘pressing capital need’ that CSAP presented to the province was to address enrollment pressures in the Halifax Regional Municipality (HRM).

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“Earlier this year, the CSAP informed us that its most pressing capital need was to address the urgent enrolment pressures in HRM and asked the province to purchase the former Newbridge Academy,” JoAnn Alberstat, communications officer with the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development, wrote in an email.

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Comeau says the Acadian school board is still working to address the replacement needs of École des Beaux-Marais but capital investment decisions are up to the province.

“Newbridge was purchased by the province and announced Sept. 30. We at this point don’t know which students will be attending that school. There are currently consultations with all seven school communities within HRM,” Comeau said.

The catchment area for École des Beaux-Marais extends as far as Sheet Harbour.

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Currently, École des Beaux-Marais only goes until Grade 8. Afterwards, students must bus to Dartmouth.

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The opening of Newbridge may mean students will have the option to go there but parents from Eastern Shore Acadian communities say that’s not a reasonable option for families who want their heritage to stay within the communities.

“This is their last hope in this school to revive that French culture in the area and that’s not going to happen if you don’t have a French school in the area, or you send your kids to French in the city. You need to have the primary to (Grade) 12 French in the area,” parent Kurt Sampson said.

The Department of Education says it’s continuing to evaluate capital needs.

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