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French immersion campus readies for open house

Father Jan/EMP/ESSMY prep for merger
FUTURE CAMPUS — Kindergarten families gathered at École Marie Poburan Feb. 1, 2023, to learn about the new French Immersion Campus opening at the school this fall. The campus aimed to have all GSACRD single-track French Immersion students in St. Albert attend class on one site. KEVIN MA/St. Albert Gazette

Staff, parents, and students at three St. Albert Catholic schools are laying the groundwork this month for the city’s first-ever French Immersion campus.

St. Albert-area parents were at École Marie Poburan Feb. 1 for the French Immersion Campus Kindergarten information night. A similar open house for Grades K-9 at Poburan and École Secondaire Sainte Marguerite d’Youville (ESSMY) next door was planned for Feb. 21.

These events followed a January 2023 decision by Greater St. Albert Catholic Schools trustees to merge Poburan, ESSMY, and École Father Jan into one single-track French Immersion campus. Father Jan would close June 30, with its students moving to Poburan this September. Poburan and Father Jan’s Grade 5 and 6 students would move to ESSMY, making Poburan a K-4 school and ESSMY a 5-9.

The shift to the French Immersion campus would affect about 600 students, said Cathy Giesbrecht, assistant superintendent of learning services for GSACRD. Staff, parents, and students at the affected schools were now collaborating to answer practical and cultural questions on what this shift would mean.

“We’re really looking at it as a new beginning for both sites,” Giesbrecht said.

Practical and cultural

Poburan parent council co-chair Jessica Shute said parents she spoke with had practical questions about this shift, such as how bell and recess times would be co-ordinated. Playground safety could also be an issue, as Grade 5 and 6 students would now have to cross a road to get to the Poburan playground from ESSMY.

Giesbrecht said staff planned to coordinate bus and class schedules at the three schools so students headed to the campus would ride the same buses. Buses would stop at ESSMY first and then roll next door to Poburan.

While teacher assignments would be decided later this year, Father Jan principal Evan Holstein said he would become principal of Poburan this fall, with Father Jan vice-principal Michelle Sestito becoming vice-principal at ESSMY. Holstein said the schools had yet to settle on a common mascot or logo (if any) for the campus, but were surveying parents to see if the campus should have a common name.

“We’re very much of the mindset that we’re going to be better together,” Holstein said, with staff aiming to combine the best aspects of the three schools.

Holstein said he planned to bring Father Jan’s house system to the new campus so older students would mentor younger ones. (The house system was a Harry-Potter-esque setup where students joined one of four themed “houses” to encourage cross-grade interaction in school activities.) Also making the jump was the Carnaval winter festival, which should be bigger than ever as it could now involve elementary and junior high students.

Shute said parent councils from the three affected schools planned to hold a joint meeting this month and were thinking about organizing an event this spring to welcome Father Jan students to Poburan.

“We recognize the sadness that’s involved with Father Jan closing and we want to do what we can to make those families feel welcome.”

Holstein said he and his own children at Father Jan had mixed feelings on the school’s upcoming closure. His kids had recently checked out the playground at Poburan, and were starting to see the move as a chance to meet new friends. The facts that many Father Jan staff and traditions would continue at the new campus also reassured them.

“We’re doing our best to reassure (families) that it’s going to be an awesome opportunity.”

Kevin Ma

About the Author: Kevin Ma

Kevin Ma joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2006. He writes about Sturgeon County, education, the environment, agriculture, science and aboriginal affairs. He also contributes features, photographs and video.
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