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O’Brien Lake West school to open as French Immersion

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When it opens, the new Catholic school in O’Brien Lake West will welcome grades K-7 French Immersion students. The Grande Prairie and District Catholic Schools board made the decision last week, along with the replacement for St. Patrick School becoming a K-8 English school.

Originally, it was proposed that O’Brien Lake West be an English school, but that was voted down by board members. Now that plans are in place for both facilities, board chair Michael Ouelette says work has already begun getting ready for them to open.

“Right after the meeting, administration had to start planning on what they’re going to do with these schools, how they’re going to open them. They always put dates on there and dates are tough because there’s always delays and stuff like that but we’re moving forward with getting those two schools up, open, and full of students.”

The school division says the decisiond were made following a series of community consultations as well as a large amount of data. A choice on what will happen with École St. Gérard, which is currently a French Immersion Pre-K to Grade 7 school in Highland Park, has been left for the future.

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Ground broke on the 85,000 square foot school in the O’Brien Lake West neighbourhood in August 2019, and at the time it was said to have room for 900 students from kindergarten to grade nine. It is expected to open in the fall of 2022, while the new St. Patrick School should open in the fall of 2023. It has been closed since 2017 after a mould issue was discovered, and plans for modernization later turned into its demolition and rebuilding.

In January, the school board recommended that all English grade K-7 schools become K-8 schools by fall 2021 or 2022 due to declining enrolment, largely in part from parents keeping their children home during the COVID-19 pandemic. It was also recommended that St. Joseph Catholic High School revert to a grade 9-12 school, St. John Paul II Catholic School to grade 9-12 for English students, with the French Immersion students remaining grade 8-12.

At this point, none of those changes have been made and Ouelette says they’re eagerly awaiting the return of full classrooms.

“I think absolutely… that Grande Prairie and area is going to rebound and we’re going to see an increase and try to get our students back up to a population that it was. By the board passing this, this is the thought that we will move forward and the kids will come back.”

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