The Gleaner
Education

Gault Institute creates opportunities while managing overcrowding

Gault Institute principal Anick Leclerc started the school year in a scramble to find enough desks and furniture, after enough children to fill a separate classroom were registered at the last minute. Leclerc says the fact the school population is booming is a good thing, but it has meant thinking creatively and reaching out to new partners.

“Space is an issue,” says Leclerc, noting they were forced to close the cafeteria to create two additional teaching spaces. The school serves 180 hot lunches per day, and while some students are eating in classrooms, others are now dining on the stage in the gym. “It is not ideal,” she admits, acknowledging she has put plans to launch a breakfast program at the school on hold because of space constraints.

The growing number of students has motivated Leclerc to reconsider almost everything, from class sizes, to creating outdoor teaching spaces, and adding additional recess periods to reduce the number of students on the playground and consequently the number of incidents and accidents.

“We really need to think,” Leclerc says. The school is currently renting the basement of a neighbouring church to use as a gym. “They are beautiful partners,” she exclaims, noting the school rents out its gym facilities to the church on Saturdays in return. “We share many things,” she says, including the playground.

The school has built what is referred to as a ‘Kinder Garden’ in the front yard, which includes a teaching space with tree stump seating, a play area, gazebo, and garden. The project cost $26,000 to put in place and included $10,000 in additional equipment. The idea behind the space is to inspire loose parts play, where students can learn from using natural or everyday objects in an unstructured environment.

 

The front yard at Gault Institute in Salaberry de Valleyfield now includes several elements that make up the Kinder Garden including an outdoor teaching space a gazebo and plenty of opportunities for creative learning PHOTO Sarah Rennie

 

Leclerc says she is focused on making the school feel safer and more homelike for her students and for the staff. She admits there is work to be done, and the space constraints make it tough at times. “We have never had this high of numbers at Gault,” she says, while pointing out the need for space is nothing new. The school has undergone three expansions since opening its doors in 1895. The latest addition, on the south side facing Dufferin Street, was completed in 2002. Now the New Frontiers School Board (NFSB) is hoping to expand again by adding a second floor to a section of the school to ease crowding.

“It is not easy on the staff, and we appreciate the effort they are making,” says John Ryan, the chair of the NFSB Council of Commissioners. He notes the board is also managing ballooning populations at the four Chateauguay elementary schools (Centennial Park, Harmony, Mary Gardner, and St. Willibrord) and at the Chateauguay Valley Career Education Centre (CVCEC) in Ormstown.

Ryan says resolutions to apply for expansion have been approved and sent on to the Education Ministry. The board is hoping to hear back as early as this June as to whether the government will fund feasibility studies, which constitute the next stage in the expansion process.

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