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Pembina Hills to establish Early Learning program at Neerlandia next year

Preschool program run by Neerlandia Christian Education Society is coming to an end in June
New Pembina HIlls Sign
The school-based early learning programs at Barrhead, Busby, Clyde, Dapp, Swan Hills and Westlock will be the model used for the new Early Learning program that will be established at Neerlandia Public Christian School (NPCS) by the Pembina Hills School Division.

BARRHEAD - Pembina Hills trustees passed a motion at their April 27 meeting to establish a school-based Early Learning Program at Neerlandia Public Christian School (NPCS) in the 2022-2023 school year, which will effectively replace the preschool program currently operated by the Neerlandia Christian Education Society. 

The new program will fall under the administration of the Early Learning principal in collaboration with the NPCS principal and will be modelled after existing programs at Barrhead Elementary School, Busby School, Eleanor Hall School, Pembina North Community School, Swan Hills School and Westlock Elementary School. 

Director of education services Raime Drake said the Neerlandia Christian Education Society has operated a preschool program for a number of years within the community, utilizing space within the Neerlandia Christian Reformed Church next to the school. 

Currently, this program is serving 15 children, including two that qualify for Program Unit Funding (PUF) or Mild-Moderate Funding, which is used for early intervention services for preschool age children with developmental delays or similar medical conditions. 

Drake said the society employs a teacher and a program assistant, and the Pembina Hills early learning teacher at NPCS goes over to the program one day a week to support those students who specifically need early intervention. 

Unfortunately, like many other similar groups within the division, “they are citing difficulty in trying to find enough volunteers,” Drake said, adding that it takes a lot of time to run a preschool program and the society’s main duties are to support the entire NPCS population. 

In January, the society chair approached Kelly Ferguson, Principal of Early Learning for Pembina Hills, about the possibility of the division assuming programming responsibilities. 

Following that conversation, the society chair wrote a letter to Supt. Michael Borgfjord, citing challenges in operating the preschool program. Ferguson also spoke to NPCS principal Brett Seatter and he was in support of creating an Early Learning program. 

On March 21, the society voted unanimously in favour of closing the preschool program at the end of June and supporting the division in creating a new program. 

Drake stressed that the society does not want to take up needed space at NPCS, so the Early Learning program could be moved over to the Christian Reformed Church in years when space was tight. 

“There is a willingness to ... have Early Learning take over the programming, but also be co-operative in providing space in the church that is adjacent to the school so it doesn’t interfere with the K-9 programming,” Drake said. 

The report to the board noted that when there is sufficient enrolment to warrant an independent program, funded children would receive services at NPCS while “typical” unfunded children would register and pay fees charged for children in other school-based early learning programs. 

In years when enrolment is insufficient, Early Learning programming will only be available for two half-days each week, and “funded” students would join the NPCS Kindergarten program for their additional hours of early intervention. 

Depending on enrolments, the program’s establishment is expected to be cost-neutral for Pembina Hills. 

Board chair Judy Lefebvre took note of the fact that the NPCS principal supported the program provided it did not impact the school’s ability to accept students from out of the attendance area and asked how that would occur. 

Drake noted that because NPCS is growing in attendance, there is a possibility that there would not be enough space to host the early learning program. 

Trustee David Truckey asked if there would be an issue with simply having the program hosted at the church. 

Ferguson explained that while the church is a good back-up, having the program at the school would offer the children the benefits of being blended with the larger school environment.

Kevin Berger, TownandCountryToday.com