A school looking for students in Lac-Édouard

Rollande Lecours admits it from the outset. When she found out that there would be no children this year in primary school, she cried for three days. For me, it was a great loss because this project, I believed in it 100%. Teaching is my life. This is the best gift I have chosen.

This project was born from the mobilization of parents, but also of Mayor Larry Bernier and his wife Rollande Lecours, both retired from teaching. The elementary school had closed in 2003 and the only option then became to send the students to La Tuque, taking the winding route of about an hour that connects the two localities.

Asking children to endure this journey twice a day, it was impossible according to Ms. Lecours. It was therefore in 2008 that the La p’tite école project was born, but this time in a mold reminiscent of row schools, with pupils of different levels gathered together. A total of fifteen young people of primary school age were educated in this class set up within the town hall and the community centre.

Rollande Lecours stands in a school class.

Rollande Lecours, known in Lac-Édouard as “Madame Rollande”

Photo: Radio-Canada / Francois Genest

An essential survival

There was no indication of a closure in September, but a few weeks before the start of classes, the two children who were registered moved to La Tuque with their father. For the first time in 14 years, the classroom lights remained off.

In Lac-Édouard, we refuse to give up. For Mayor Larry Bernier, keeping La p’tite école alive is essential to ensure the vitality of this community of less than 200 inhabitants, located one hour from La Tuque. However, the challenge is not so much to attract newcomers, especially since the pandemic. But it’s more about getting young families to choose Lac-Édouard.

We have a lot of pre-retirees and retirees coming here. But we won’t be able to attract young families if we don’t have a school and daycare. As I often say jokingly: we are going to be condemned to manage older people, people my age who are going to settle down. So that’s why school is so important.

Larry Bernier is in front of Lac-Édouard Town Hall.

Larry Bernier is mayor of Lac-Édouard.

Photo: Radio-Canada / Francois Genest

The project is held at arm’s length by volunteer citizens, such as Mr. Bernier and Mrs. Lecours who, from the start, taught children’s smiles with only remuneration. For him, it was science and for her, French and history among others.

The village artist was in charge of the plastic arts. The young people even learned how to trap a beaver, with the local trapper, an unforgettable experience tells us Mrs. Rollande. They were blown away! Another time it was learning to identify forest mushrooms. Here, it’s an extraordinary living environment for our young people because they are surrounded by nature.

Fortunately, they say, they had help from the government in 2015, when a budget was released to allow a teacher from the Center de services scolaire de l’Énergie to come here two days a week, which which gave a valuable boost to the volunteer teachers.

Personalized teaching as desired!

One of the selling points to convince families is that of individualized teaching. At the height of its attendance, La p’tite école welcomed eight young people. Over the years, there have often been more teachers than children, Mr. Bernier jokingly points out. I remember at the beginning, there were already up to nine teachers for two students. It’s extraordinary!

A ratio that allows children to learn faster, but also to better manage behavioral problems, adds Ms. Lecours. It really is one-to-one teaching. So, behavioral issues, we just didn’t have any.

Exterior view of Lac-Édouard Town Hall.

La P’tite école is located in the town hall of Lac-Édouard.

Photo: Radio Canada

The hope of reopening

Despite the forced break this year, there is still hope on the horizon. The closure is likely to be temporary. Two children are expected to enter kindergarten in the fall, including the son of the new manager of the Village Solidarity Cooperative, who left Montreal to settle here last January.

Linda Gauthier Castaneda was looking for a place in nature where the price of houses was still affordable. I fell in love with Lac-Édouard, the community is so welcoming! What attracts me to the school is that we find the same advantages as an alternative school. With few students, they learn faster. It’s one to one, so the teacher follows them very well.

These two toddlers can be certain of one thing, Mrs. Rollande intends to welcome them with open arms at the start of the school year. This sexagenarian passionate about teaching still has the flame.

As long as my health will allow it, yes. Because it keeps me alive. This is what gives me energy.

For his part, Mayor Bernier, optimistic by nature, points to the cell tower that will soon be put into service. Finally, he says, his village will emerge from its cellular black hole . Development is here, an everyday struggle.


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