French school board sees influx of students as P.E.I.’s population keeps growing

Prince Edward Island’s growing population is leading to rising student numbers at most of the Island’s French-language schools — and it’s a challenge to find classroom space for everyone. 

Ghislain Bernard is the superintendent of the Island’s French language school board, La Commission scolaire de langue française. He said increased immigration to P.E.I. has definitely boosted student numbers.  

“We have no reason to see that trend slowing — [and] with it comes space concerns,” said Bernard.

The French board has six schools across P.E.I., and many are seeing more students coming through their doors. École Évangéline in Abrams Village is the only one to see a slight decrease. 

School board superintendent Ghislain Bernard said it’s challenging to deal with growing student numbers, but good to see the French language remain so strong on the Island. (Laura Meader/CBC)

Bernard said in the past, they used to see more growth in the relatively urban areas of Charlottetown and Summerside. Now rural schools are seeing it too. 

École Pierre-Chiasson in the Tignish area has doubled its student population in the last five years, for example. 

“There’s seven classrooms for 13 levels,” Bernard said, though there are plans to build two new classrooms in the near future. 

There’s been a bit of a turnaround in the last two or three years in the rural areas.— Ghislain Bernard

Bernard said they wouldn’t have expected to see such growth in rural areas, but he speculates that cheaper housing prices outside urban areas combined with the overall lack of housing means new Island residents are living in a variety of communities. 

“There’s been a bit of a turnaround in the last two or three years in the rural areas,” he said.

Bernard said they’ve been fortunate to be able to have enough French-speaking teachers at a time when there’s a national shortage of them. 

Second school for Charlottetown area? 

At École François-Buote, the French school in Charlottetown, meeting rooms and the home economics and science labs have been turned into classrooms. There are also two mobile trailer classrooms outside the school building to accommodate the growing student population. 

mobile classrooms outside French school in Charlottetown.
École François-Buote in Charlottetown needs two mobile classrooms this year to cope with its growing student population. (Laura Meader/CBC)

Bernard said that at some point, it will be difficult to expand the school’s Charlottetown site any further.

“It’s coming to have a very big footprint,” he said. “We’ll need to decide if we need a second school in the greater Charlottetown area, whether that be Stratford or elsewhere.…

“The size and sheer scope of what’s going on at François-Buote is forcing us to consider: ‘What are our options here?'” 

Finding room is ‘complicated’

Isabelle Savoie-Jamieson is the principal of François-Buote.

She said the school was built for 150 students, but renovations made room for 350. Now François-Buote has 490 students and numbers are expected to keep climbing to 750 in the next six years. 

We are very grateful for the mobile classes because I don’t think we could function without them right now.— Isabelle Savoie-Jamieson

“It’s always a little bit complicated to find room for everybody, but we’re making do,” said Savoie-Jamieson. 

She said one mobile classroom was brought in last year, and another one was added this year. 

“We are very grateful for the mobile classes because I don’t think we could function without them right now.” 

She said although they are short on space, the influx of people into P.E.I. from so many other cultures has brought a “richness” to the school, adding: “I think it opens people’s mind and horizons on the rest of the world.” 

Principal Isabelle Savoie-Jamieson stands in school hallway.
Principal Isabelle Savoie-Jamieson said washroom space is limited at École François-Buote, and the school needs more classroom and gym space as well. (Laura Meader/CBC)

The provincial government announced funding last year to help expand the school further, and a total of $12 million has been slated to go into renovations over the next five years. 

Meanwhile, despite the challenges, the French-language school board’s superintendent said growing student numbers are good for the French language in P.E.I. 

“The hope for the future would be that the growth continues, and that we’re able welcome these students into our centres and have space for them,” said Bernard. 

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