Parents in the central Alberta hamlet of Benalto are facing the prospect of busing their elementary aged kids out of town.
The Chinook’s Edge School Board has initiated the closure process for the hamlet’s school after enrolment fell to just 21 students.
“Their number one priority is always the education experience of the child in the classroom,” district superintendent of schools Kurt Sacher said. “You have grade levels like kindergarten with two students, grade one with two students, grade two with two students.”
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Sacher has spent several months working with the community to gather information, which will then be given to the board as they make their final decision.
“How it impacts the community, the educational learning environment of every student in the school, they look at the financial components, they look at the potential impacts on transportation, and on it goes,” Sacher added.
Junior and senior high school aged children from the community are already bused to Sylvan Lake, but parents worry what the impact might be on their younger kids.
“If they’re picked up and plunked into a larger centre, larger classes, we’re not sure what the impact, long term, will be of that,” said Angie Schickerowski, who has two children attending Benalto School and a third just a couple of years away.
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The local parent council has launched a social media campaign in hopes of attracting more students from surrounding communities. They feel if they can just attract 10 more families, the school would be able to stay open.
“If we can look outside the box and look at other communities to see if there are some families out there that could see the value, and the amazing education they could get from Benalto School, we believe that we can grow our enrolment numbers,” Schickerowski said.
Even if the school were to remain open, the school district says it would have to cut resources. There are two teachers and an educational assistant, leaving the cost per student to run the school about double the average of other schools in the district, and the fear is cutting back to one teacher would harm educational outcomes.
The school board will make its final decision at a public meeting in Innisfail on April 6.