Most Cape Breton students went back to school Thursday, but students and staff were especially excited to enter the new $8.2-million Membertou Elementary School.
Membertou education director Darren Googoo said 101 students were enrolled last year in the old Maillard Street elementary school.
This year, because of the new school, the Primary-to-Grade-6 student population has increased more than 50 per cent.
“They’ve really taken to it,” Googoo said. “There were 161 students that came to school today, excited to be here and ready to learn. As an educator, you can’t ask for more than that.”
Membertou parents can choose to enrol their children in the public education system but are obviously pleased with the new school, which contains state-of-the-art technology in each classroom, said Googoo.
The school’s official name, Maupeltuewey Kina’matno’kuom, means “the place where we learn” in Mi’kmaq. It falls under the Mi’kmaw Kinamatnewey education system and was funded with $6.1 million from the system and $2.1 million from the community.
Each classroom contains Smart boards and smart audio, so teachers can speak at a normal volume and yet be heard by each student in the room. The computer lab has 24 new Macintosh workstations and the students have access to laptops, iPads and Kobo eReaders.
Students also take Mi’kmaq language classes every day, in addition to the full provincial curriculum.
“Our school is based on a couple of simple principles,” said Googoo, also a member of the Cape Breton-Victoria regional school board. “Our (band) council committed to quality education and one grade, one teacher. We don’t combine classes.
“We’re preparing our students for the 21st century, to participate in the world economy, and at the same time putting a strong emphasis on who we are as Mi’kmaq people.”
The school was built with a geothermal heating and cooling system and contains an array of solar panels that feed electricity into the Nova Scotia Power grid. Googoo said it is estimated the solar panels alone will generate $12,000 to $18,000 annually in electricity credits.
The building was also designed as a community facility, with separate access to the extra-large gymnasium and library.
As well, there is room to expand, and the plumbing and electrical work are ready if the community decides to add junior high classrooms in the future.
And Health Canada is expected to provide funding for a dental clinic that is already built in the school.
Googoo said attendance rates at the elementary school have soared over the last decade, and the dental clinic will help students miss fewer classes.
More than 10 years ago, a majority of students missed school about one in every four days. Last year, 95 per cent of students missed fewer than eight days of school all year.
“It’s a significant increase,” said Googoo.
Academics are improving, too, he said. Last year, about one-third of all Membertou students, on and off reserve, made the honour roll.
The new school is still getting some final touches. A fence was under construction on opening day and the outdoor basketball court and playground are in the works.
A grand opening will be held on September 16.
Via Cape Breton Post.