Tour of new Catholic school helps ease COVID concerns

Chatham's newest elementary school was a buzz of activity Thursday as several families took the opportunity to tour St. Angela Merici before it official opens in September.

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Chatham’s newest elementary school was a buzz of activity Thursday as several families took the opportunity to tour St. Angela Merici before it official opens in September.

As the COVID-19 pandemic persists, St. Clair Catholic District school board director of education Deb Crawford said she’s been encouraged by the conversations she had with many parents.

“They are feeling better about the choice of sending their child back to school when they see the classrooms. They see the school. They’re feeling more secure about their decision,” she said.

Crawford said more than 90 per cent of students plan to be in class when the new school opens, and the percentage is even higher at other schools.

This is a special time for little four-year-old Liv Couture, who is starting her first year of school at St. Angela Merici.

“I’m so excited,” said the junior kindergarten student who toured her new school with mom Kristy Cons.

Cons said she is feeling “100 per cent comfortable” with how the school plans to deal with COVID-19.

“With everything going on right now, a brand new school is definitely what they’re going to need,” she said.

Cons is also impressed with the look of the new school, noting, “it’s absolutely beautiful.”

Melissa Weston toured the school with her two children, Janelle St-Amand and Jessy St-Amand.

While she admits to having worries about her children being safe as the pandemic continues, Weston wants them returning to class rather than learning online.

She joked her son is a Fortnite player, so she doesn’t want him to be tempted to play online when he should be studying.

After seeing his new school, Jessy was impressed.

“It has a big gym,” said the former St. Agnes student.

Weston said the new school is beautiful, but the location means her kids will now have to take a bus.

“They’ll get used to it,” she said.

The $16-million school, with a capacity of 560 students, features a two-storey learning commons, with large windows from top to bottom, that serves as a collaborative learning centre.

Other features include a gymnasium with retractable stage, a science room, an art room and several large classrooms with huge windows to let in plenty of natural light.

Just like students, not many educators get the opportunity to move into a brand new school.

“For all of us, this is so exciting,” said Juli Faubert, the first principal of St. Angela Merici. “We’ve just had a really good start up in the last couple of weeks with bringing our teachers in and they’re amazed with the space.”

The restrictions required because of the COVID pandemic are being taken in stride by staff.

“It’s not going to be the same, but we’ve got a great team behind us, all the way around, from senior admin right straight down to our staff here at the school, so we’re in a good space,” Faubert said.

Mayor Darrin Canniff also stopped by for a tour of the school.

“It’s fantastic to be in the 21st century (with the new school),” he said.

The mayor believes having a new school with modern facilities will make students want to come to school even more because it’s so conducive to learning.

He added a new school is also a big plus for attracting new people to the community.

“I’m excited about what this is going to do for Chatham-Kent,” Canniff said.

The school also features an impressive childcare space that will be operated by Ridge K.I.D.S. Daycare.

It’s beautiful; it’s well built,” said Ridge K.I.D.S. director Sue Jennings. “We’re excited to be coming here.”

She said a lot of thought was put into the design, noting the playgrounds are located right off the classrooms so students don’t have to trek through the school.

“Every classroom is self-contained,” said Jennings, adding each has storage and a washroom.

“The kitchen is fantastic,” she said, praising the size and the fact it has commercial appliances.

Jennings said a lot of childcare facilities were retrofitted into schools when the Best Start program began.

“This is the first (school), I know, that’s been built specifically with a childcare in it.”

The facility will be licensed for 161 children, including infant, toddler and pre-school age programs, as well as before- and after-school programs.

“We are pretty full in our infant and our school-aged programs, but we still have some room in our pre-school and our toddler programs,” Jennings said.

eshreve@postmedia.com

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