By Richard Bell
Parents of the splitting-at-the-seams L’Ecole des Beaux Marais in Porters Lake are bitterly disappointed by the failure of the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development (DEECD) to include a replacement for the school in the new 2019-2024 Nova Scotia School Capital Plan.
“Our school’s is at the top of the Conseil Scolaire Acadien Provincial (CSAP)’s list for replacement,” said Michelle Burgess, a member of the Action Committee for a New School that’s been working hard for several years for a replacement. (This committee is a subcommittee of French equivalent of the School Advisory Committee.)
In a recent interview with the Cooperator, Burgess walked through the problems facing parents who want their children to go to a French school as part of the larger effort of rebuilding French culture on the Eastern Shore.
“The school started in an abandoned English school in 2011,” Burgess said. “There were 17 students in the first class. Now we’re up to 262, in a school where the capacity is 196. There’s literally no more classroom space. The gym is half the size of a regular gym, and it doubles as the lunchroom, where we have to do two shifts. The ceiling’s so low that our 5th graders literally have to play volleyball on their knees!”
Instead of a replacement French school embedded in an Acadian community, DEECD announced the purchase of Newbridge Academy, a failed private school in Dartmouth, which will be turned over to the CSAP for a 9-12 French-only school. But some Beaux Marais students come from as far east as Little Harbour, at least an hour’s drive one-way to Newbridge.
Beaux Marais parents are distraught. “Every single parent in our community is faced with an impossible choice,” Burgess said. “We’ve been working really, really hard to restore the French culture that was destroyed through assimilation. If you have a child who’s heading for high school, can you drive them in to Newbridge, or are you going to have to take them out and put them in an English school because it’s just not feasible for you to drive that far.”
Eastern Shore District High has a “late” French immersion program, starting in grade 7. But as Burgess pointed out, kids coming in from Beaux Marais are already 100% bilingual, where the other children are just beginners in French. “They would be holding our kids back,” Burgess notes.
Education Minister Zack Churchill is scheduled for a high profile tour of Beaux Marais on Wednesday, November 27, together with MLA Kevin Murphy and MP Darrell Samson. “We don’t think the Minister knows how bad things are at the school,” said Burgess. “He’s been scheduled to come several times previously, but he’s cancelled every time.”