The Benalto Elementary School has been educating students since 1938, however recent low enrollment numbers have led to conversations around the school’s closure.
There are currently 20 students enrolled at the school, with parents and community members working very hard to try and keep the school open.
A meeting was held by Chinook’s Edge School Division at the Elks Hall in Benalto last Thursday regarding the future of the school and aimed to collect information from the public.
The meeting attracted parents, community members, trustees, county councillors, an MLA from the Wildrose party and representatives from Chinook’s Edge School Division.
There were around 65 people at the meeting, all who had their voices heard in smaller groups with a facilitator taking down their answers.
The questions asked attendees what they felt the educational and financial advantages would be if the school was to remain open, as well as the educational impact on their child if the school were to close. In addition parents were also asked about the social and financial impacts the closure would have on their community and what needs to be considered if the students were to attend another school in the division.
The public still has a chance to answer these questions and have their voices heard. Submissions will be received at the board office until noon on March 29, 2016.
Listening to every person was the main goal whether they were a community member or a parent said Chinook’s Edge School Division superintendent Kurt Sacher.
“Every single one of their voices was heard and documented and that’s what we were really looking to see happen,” he said.
The top concern that came up was the impact it may have on the community if the school were closed.
“In their minds the school is the heart of the community,” Sacher said.
The Benalto School Review Committee has done an incredible amount of work promoting the school within the community. The committee has gone door to door in Benalto and the surrounding area where they gathered statistics on the number of children that could go to the school. They see reason to be optimistic and passed the information they gathered on to the board.
The statistics the committee gathered show that 29 children could be enrolled at the school in the 2016-2017 year. The number of children that could be enrolled would increase in the years to follow.
Parents currently have the choice as to which school their children attend and can choose to send their children to nearby towns such as Eckville, Spruceview and Sylvan Lake.
“The provincial government allows every parent the choice about where to send their children regardless of the boundaries that a jurisdiction sets up. They can make arrangements for their child to attend another school that is out of boundaries,” Sacher said.
He said he has talked to some parents who send their children to a school in Sylvan Lake and added they feel there is a wider variety of programming available in other schools.
He added other reasons for parents choosing to send their children elsewhere could be convenience for parents who work, do business or have social connections in Sylvan Lake.
“I think people wonder about the boundaries, which kids are designated and could those be broadened to allow a larger number of students to attend the Benalto ElementarySchool?” Sacher said on common questions asked. “Are there more efforts that can be made to promote a great little school in Benalto that would help with numbers?”
He added the majority of parents and community members he has spoken with appreciate that it wasn’t just two or three people talking to the whole group. They liked how they were able to answer the questions, as well as voice their opinions in a smaller group while having what they said noted.
“Every single person had an opportunity to be heard,” Sacher said. “It will also be passed on to the board for their packages for deliberations.”
“We didn’t want to lose that and I think they appreciated that.”
With the school’s rich history in the community, many are concerned with the impacts of the potential closure.
“They were there to make sure their voice was heard and we really appreciated hearing from them,” Sacher said. “They made a lot of really good points.”
Angie Schickerowski, whose children attend Benalto School, was in attendance and stated she wants to see the school remain open.
She said it is an amazing school and the best education a child can get.
“The small class sizes are amazing and the personalized education the teachers do is incredible,” Schickerowski said. “It’s what you get for $10,000 at a private school in the city,and we get it in Benalto as part of the public system.”
In attending the meeting she said she hopes to encourage the board to try harder to keep the school open.
“We know that we don’t have the numbers in Benalto, but we really feel that there are parents in Sylvan Lake and Eckville and really close destinations that would love for their children to come here if they knew more about the school.”
If the school were to close Schickerowski said she would be devastated.
The closure would uproot her children who attend the school. Not only that but she said her family bought their house based on the school’s location.
“It seems like it would be a decision that wouldn’t just affect the 20 children that are at the school but it would affect the entire community,” she said.
Schickerowski is not the only parent that feels this way. She said every parent is passionate about the school as a whole.
She made a video that outlines how the students learn and the fun activities they get to do as a student at the school.
Carol Rambaut from the Benalto School Review Committee said the teachers at the school are awesome and that the children aren’t lacking anything as far as good education goes.
“The children at Benalto Elementary School get pretty much one on one in subjects they are lacking in,” she said. “When they come out of Benalto Elementary School they are well rounded citizens.”