Back to school for Benalto, despite low enrolment

Benalto Elementary School teachers and staff welcomed students back to school early this week, proving that the school is very much alive.

Benalto Elementary School teachers and staff welcomed students back to school early this week, proving that the school is very much alive and well, even amidst low enrolment numbers.

The school currently has about 25 students enrolled, a decrease from last year’s 32 students.

These low numbers have been a concern for the school’s teachers and staff as well as students’ parents in the past, with the worry of the school’s future operations.

A viability process was recently completed by the Chinook Edge School Division (CESD) due to low enrolment, which took a look at the educational environment to see if students’ needs were being met.

Superintendent Kurt Sacher commented on the decrease of student enrolment and the outcome of the viability process and said there has been no decision made as far as anything other than the school moving forward with all the other schools in the division.

“The school has always moved forward with fairly small numbers relatively speaking, but they have been under 100 for many years,” Sacher said.

What has kept the school going, he said, is having supportive parents who have raised a significant amount of money to support some of the extras for the children.

He also commented on how the teachers are there for the children and work hard to provide a good learning environment.

Due to a lower number of students, the school can facilitate and accommodate the playschool, parenting sessions and a playgroup.

These efforts are aimed at meeting the needs of all the families and children in the community, said Benalto School teacher Betty Brassard.

The school accommodates Kindergarten to Grade 6, and students learn in multi-grade classrooms from teachers with many years of multi-grade teaching experience.

Brassard said the school has the capacity to educate 70 children, with around 50 being ideal.

She suspects a big part of the reason why the school continues to decline in student numbers is because of the town’s age demographic.

At one time there were many families with many children between the ages of five and 12 years old, she said, but now the children have grown up and are middle- and high-school ages.

“I think for the most part it’s due to the families in our community not having as many school-aged children,” Brassard said.

When the children reach middle school, they often attend a school in Sylvan Lake or Eckville, with many students going to École Fox Run School in Sylvan.

Brassard said the community seems to be attracting more young families, but those families have younger children that are not old enough for school yet.

She describes Benalto Elementary School as being very student-centred with a real family atmosphere, and is always open to accepting more students.

What makes this school unique is the small class sizes, which allow the teachers to get to know every student, therefore being able to build a strong relationship with the students and their parents.

“It truly is more of a family-type atmosphere and very much student-centred,” Brassard said.

This school is not without modern technology either as the students have access to either an iPad or a laptop.

Brassard said the technology tools help the students learn in different ways, such as reading or listening to books and using different educational applications.

“(We’re) just integrating technology into where it’s necessary,” Brassard said.

“I think it’s the way kids want to learn. It’s very motivational and it will become the norm.”