École Notre-Dame-du-Sault in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont. Photo courtesy Paul de la Riva

Sault’s new school aims to preserve French culture

By 
  • November 10, 2012

For the French Catholic community in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., the newly constructed École Notre-Dame-du-Sault will provide students with the sense of belonging necessary for preserving their French identity.

“The community really wanted us to unite all of our students at one site and offer students a high quality school where they get to start off in Kindergarden and finish off in Grade 12,” said Paul de la Riva, spokesperson for the Conseil scolaire catholique du Nouvel-Ontario (CSCNO). “The board’s main goal is to keep our students from Kindergarden to Grade 12.”

But that isn’t what had been happening in northern Ontario’s third largest city. While there are two elementary schools — École Cardinal-Léger and École Notre-Dame-des-Écoles which was expanded to become the new school — it had been renting space at a local Catholic secondary school to house its own high school.

De la Riva said this lack of independent identity caused many students to move to the English boards, either public or Catholic, when they entered Grade 9.

“All our schools weren’t really up to par, they were old schools and they really weren’t meeting the needs of the community,” he said. “When you’re renting a spot or area in another school you may have your own wing but you’re always looking at what the others are doing, the bigger section of the school. By having our students in their own building it will build a sense of belonging.”

That’s what prompted the five-year, $12.5- million project of renovating, expanding and rebranding École Notre-Dame-des-Écoles for which the province put forward $11.26 million, with the additional funds coming from the board’s budget.

It isn’t just CSCNO students who will benefit from this new building, which held its official opening ceremony on Oct. 26. Along with housing the more than 300 students from Junior Kindergarden to Grade 12, the building will also host the French-language adult learning centre and the Centre francophone de Sault-Ste-Marie, as well as play a supportive role for many off site organizations.

It is hoped this will help establish the new school as a hub for francophone pride.

“The school’s community component is something we hold dear and which will certainly contribute to its growth and to the vitality of the francophone community in Sault Ste. Marie and the Algoma District,” said Lyse-Anne Papineau, CSCNO director of education, in a news release. “We strongly believe that the new school will become a key City of Sault Ste. Marie partner for many years to come.”

Not only does the board hope that more students will remain pupils of its system, the board also hopes to attract new students to the francophone system with the modern school which has a capacity of 565 students. To help ensure success in maxing out this expanded capacity, the school houses a French-language day care program for up to 30 children.

“It’s really important to support the parents in preserving their language,” said de la Riva. “If children are not going to French schools, we know that one generation from now you’re losing many francophones who may have knowledge of the language but will not have the skills or capacity to really speak the language, transmit the language and culture to their kids.”

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