School thriving despite overcrowding
PETES students, staff making best of situation
Walking into Pierre Elliott Trudeau Elementary School in Vaudreuil-Dorion Monday morning was like walking into any other elementary school. The brightly lit halls were filled with children, art work and some evidence of snow pants and boots.... What’s not as obvious, however, was that PETES is a school bursting at the seams.
Principal Colleen Galley says it’s business as usual for the 450 children attending a school designed for about 100 fewer students.
“We’re making lemonade from lemons,” she noted.
Galley, who assumed PETES top administrative job at the beginning of the school year, says staff, students and parents have been “incredibly supportive” when coming up with solutions for much needed space.
For example, when a speech therapist, a psychologist and a hearing specialist who come into the school on different days to work with specific students did not have a place to call their own, Galley’s teachers suggested converting a large cloak-room used by the Home and School Organization into a cozy but functional office.
The cooperative spirit continued when the Home and School president not only agreed to give up the space, but came in and cleaned it out.
“The speech therapist was thrilled with the room,” Galley said. “She had to cart all of her tools from place to place before we found this solution.”
Other creative, space saving measures included converting boys’ and girls’ gym locker rooms into resource rooms, and another small storage space housing about 100 spare chairs into a place where a special needs teacher can do his job uninterrupted.
The room now boasts a table and chairs, supplies needed by the teacher and an exercise bicycle used when children with hyperactivity disorder must expend extra energy.
The best part, says Galley, the 100 extra chairs and additional unused supplies that were gathering dust went to three less affluent schools.
“There are some schools with a lot less (than we have,) so it’s great they could use the stuff that was just extra for us.”
Overcrowding ongoing issue
Galley candidly admits every inch of available space at PETES has now been maximized (except for her office, which she’d be willing to subdivide,) but she says the problem is not unique to the VaudreuilDorion school.
“Almost every other school in the region is overcrowded,” she said. “The only school that has some extra space isWestwood Jr. (in Saint-Lazare).”
To that end, 120 of next year’s grades 5 and 6 students will attend Westwood Jr. instead of PETES.
Parents of the satellite students attended a Feb. 3 meeting in order to learn details and express concerns, while they and their kids also toured Westwood Jr. yesterday evening. Galley says that while the kids will still be PETES students, they’ll go each day to the Saint-Lazare junior high school, returning to PETES from time to time for special events.
The students will follow PETES late start schedule meaning their day will begin and end an hour later thanWestwood’s.
The younger students will have their own entrance into the school and will occupy five classrooms in a separate wing.
They’ll also eat lunch at a time different than the high school kids.
“Some parents were concerned that their kids would be “exposed” to high school students,” Galley said, adding, “They won’t come in contact very often at all with the Westwood kids, but we think there’s also a terrific opportunity to do some bridging activities with younger and older students.”
No relief from crowding
Despite sending the 120 students to Westwood Jr., PETES will still be well over capacity next year. There are currently 75 incoming kindergarten students registered to attend the school next year, a number expected to climb, noted Galley.
In addition, another 36 satellite students currently attending kindergarten at Mount Pleasant Elementary in Hudson will return next year.
“ So we’ll have the same number of students, they’ll just be smaller,” Galley said with a laugh, adding that PETES, like most crowded off-island schools has had no word on when or where a new English elementary school expected to help ease the situation will be built.
A PETES teacher uses a cozy former cloak-room that was turned into an office to catch up on some work.
Colleen Galley shows off a space now used by a special needs teacher.