It’s getting pretty cramped at École francophone d’Airdrie, as the school’s enrolment continues to grow.
The city’s sole Francophone school, located in the southeast community of Ravenswood, includes classes from kindergarten to Grade 12, as well as a preschool. With 503 students currently enrolled, the school is operating at 90 per cent capacity.
“If enrolment continues to increase the same way it has over the last years, we expect the school to be at its full capacity by the end of next school year,” said Stephan de Loof, the executive director of operations and transportation for Conseil Scolaire du Sud de l’Alberta (FrancoSud) – the Francophone school district for southern Alberta.
The school’s main building was originally built to accommodate 400 students, according to de Loof – 100 fewer than the current enrolment total.
“The continual increase in enrolment creates challenges for gymnasium, science labs and special options facilities,” he said. “For the teachers and staff, this creates a situation where accessibility to resources and faculties can become more challenging. Ultimately – it is not the case for now – this could lead to an increase in the amount of students per classroom.”
École francophone d’Airdrie opened in 2015 with 330 students enrolled, according to de Loof. Due to the increasing number of students since then, some non-learning spaces have been converted into classrooms, and seven portables have been added to accommodate the growth.
But City of Airdrie zoning regulations allow for just one more portable, he said, which means a longer-term solution needs to be found.
De Loof noted a second Francophone school in Airdrie, for grades 7 to 12, is one of FrancoSud’s priority capital projects. The district’s three-year capital plan for 2020-23 lists a Francophone school in the northwest community of Reunion as the number-two priority.
“Given the enrolment pressure already experienced at the French-language school and that there is no more space to add portables, there is a pressing need for a new school,” the plan read.
According to FrancoSud, census data from 2016 recorded 622 school-age children in Airdrie had a parent whose first language was French.
“All the relevant information has been shared with the Ministry of Education, and they are well aware of the situation and the need for a new Francophone high school in Airdrie,” de Loof said. “We do not know when to expect this new infrastructure, but we are hoping for an announcement as soon as possible.”
Despite the space crunch, he noted, student experience at École francophone d’Airdrie hasn’t been impacted.
“Nor does it affect the quality of the education offered at the school,” de Loof said. “We have been very effective at finding solutions to accommodate the situation and will continue to do so.”
Yanick Harrison, the father of two children at École francophone d’Airdrie and the vice-president of the school council, said the French-speaking community in Airdrie is growing, and there will soon be a need for another school.
“There’s still room to grow, but it’s tight,” he said.
Harrison, who grew up speaking French in Montreal before moving to Vancouver in 1999 to improve his English, said there are many reasons he and his wife decided to enrol their children in the school.
“Our kids, even though they’re born and raised Albertans, my wife and I are Francophone,” said Harrison, who is also the president of École francophone d’Airdrie’s parent society. “I personally find French is not an easy language to learn, and you really have to immerse yourself to really become proficient at it.
“If you look at my kids, yes, they go to school in French, but as soon as they step outside those doors, their friends, neighbourhood, sports – it’s all in English.”
Editor's note: This story has been updated Jan. 17, as a miscommunication resulted in the FrancoSud representative being incorrectly identified as Antoine Begin.