École Héritage begins the 2016/17 school year on a positive note with some growth in student numbers, which is always relevant in a relatively small school. This is also a positive indication for things in the Francophone community.
“Because we are so little, when we go from 125 to 145 students that is considerable growth, just like if we lose five students it may not be alarming, but it hurts,” says École Héritage principal Nicole Walliser.
“Any time that we have Francophone children who are living in the community choosing to not attend French language instruction, we see it as losing ground. As a French community, it means the more you lose ground the more you are being assimilated.”
Walliser readily acknowledges that the concern is not about the quality of education the students will receive at other schools but that they will not play an active role in the French community later on.
“Are they still going to get a great education in neighbouring schools, absolutely? But we have lost their contribution to French activities and French organizations.”
Nicole Walliser recognizes that in a minority situation language cannot survive in a cultural vacuum and that French cultural activities and organizations are essential. Language is the conduit that runs through all cultural and social activities and it needs those cultural forms and social connections in order to remain animate and viable, in order to thrive.
“So we are trying to create French students, French speakers when they leave here they are going to insert themselves in the community and gravitate towards French organizations or French activities so that the language continues to exist.”
She also points out that École Héritage has a double mandate to fulfill in providing quality, comprehensive education to its students and at the same time maintaining the French language and French culture.
It is apparent that in Alberta where English is the majority language, the students need to be proficient in English whether parents chose to send their children to a Francophone school or a one track English school.
“We have students that study in English and do just as well in French as in English and vice versa. We have former students who are studying medicine at the University of Edmonton in the English program, we have some former students at the University of Ottawa who are studying in French. “
The level of education in English and French schools is comparable, as they both must follow the same curriculum set out by Alberta Education. However, from a pragmatic perspective, students who speak French double their chance of admittance into various programs as they can eliminate half the competition if they can apply to a French University.
Walliser says, as part of École Héritage cultural pedagogy that the school has already a number of events scheduled bringing in speakers, musicians and different performers to give presentations in French. There are also performances in English associated with the English programs but as so much of the cultural landscape is in English already, the emphasis is understandably on French programming.
“This year we have Bill Bestiole, bestiole means bugs; he brings in his insects for the kids and does science projects,” says Walliser.
“We always work with Café Nord West to bring in a guest speaker right around Family Fair. We try to find a speaker who is an athlete or maybe the former leader of some group or organization.”
She points out also, that École Héritage likes to bring in speakers with stories that have a rise, fall and rise again trajectory; the archetypal elements of success, struggle and redemption.
The Edmonton Francophone theatre group L’UniThéâtre usually performs at the school, an occasion that is typically something of a community event with friends and neighbours invited to come to the play.
Another performer coming to École Héritage, who is also a regular participant at Carnaval de St-Isidore, storyteller, musician, actor, puppeteer and folklorist, Roger Dallaire.
Dallaire has a keen interest in history and often incorporates historical information into his performances.
For instance, he traveled the traditional fur trade route, taking picture and keeping a journal and developed a presentation around that journey.
École Héritage has planned a number of educational and cultural school trips to Edmonton, Calgary and Grande Prairie and a number of field trips: Drumheller for Grades 5 and 6, a trip to Quebec for Grades 7 and 9. Also, this year, Grades 11 and 12 will be making a humanitarian trip to Nicaragua, a trip that happens every two years.
“On September 30 we will host an online, remote event with the main La Fondation franco-albertaine event taking place as always in Edmonton,” says Walliser. “There will also be remote events in Bonnyville, Lethbridge and St. Isidore.”
École Héritage is using this event for the establishment of a fund to support school cultural projects in the future.
The idea is to bring together philanthropists to donate money and once the fund is established to encourage people to leave legacy money. Families will also be asked to contribute to try and build up the fund until eventually it will generate annual revenue to use specifically for École Héritage cultural programs.
The wine and cheese event with an art night theme, will take place in the school gym from 6 to 9 pm.
Local artist, Chantal Nicolet who works with bees wax, is going to paint a canvas onsite and at the end of the evening that work will be auctioned and the proceeds will go towards the fund.
Various French Artists in the community are also asked to contribute work that will also be auctioned as a contribution the cultural activities fund.
“That is part of our mandate to ensure cultural activities as the school plays a huge role in the community,” says Walliser.
“Being a principal or a teacher in a Francophone or any minority institution you have to work two-fold because you are always thinking about these kinds of things to ensure longevity, to ensure that we are here in twenty years.”
École Héritage also welcomed two new staff members for the new school year.
Annie Beauregard and Ben Dube are both from Quebec, Beauregard from Ville Marie, Temiscaming and Dube is from Hull.
Beauregard and Dube who have been together for 12 years worked in Whitehorse, Yukon, 2014 – 2015, Dube teaching and Beauregard, whose background is in school administration, worked for Yukon Education.
They returned to Quebec last year before coming out west again to work at Ecole Heritage, Dube as a physical education teacher and Beauregard as French monitor.
Both Ben Dube and Annie Beauregard, who now live in Girouxville, are enthusiastic about living and working in the Smoky River region and are looking forward to having plenty of opportunity to engage in their shared passion of hunting and fishing.
“We hunt, we fish, it’s a good place for that and the school is awesome,” says Dube.