Quebec’s St-Paul's School Community Learning Center Starts a School-based Centre De La Petite Enfance

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International News    The province of Quebec is a pioneer in introducing universal and low-cost early childcare programs in Canada (known as "Centres de la Petite Enfance" or CPE). However only a few of these are school-based; the Community Learning Centers (CLC), a partnership that aims to support the holistic development of citizens and communities, has a community school beginning to implement a CPE. Though still at the formative stage, this approach holds great promise.

According to Kimberly Buffitt, Coordinator of the St-Paul's School Community Learning Center, the reason behind setting up the CPE in the school was a natural result of CLC’s mission, to support the holistic development of citizens and respond to community needs. “There is huge unemployment in our area and many fathers go away to work for three to six months of the year, leaving mothers at home by themselves, thus becoming single mothers half of the year. Also parents have low income, low education levels, and other challenges associated with poverty. In many households both parents must work; often in factory positions, mostly fish plants. Our school is open year-long, six days a week from early morning, for those kids whose parents go to work early, to 9:30 at night.”

The St. Paul’s School is located on the Lower North Shore of Quebec, Eastern Canada, in a community called St. Paul's River. Historically the region’s main industries have been fishing, hunting and fur trading. However the area has now one of highest unemployment rates in Canada, as 60% of the population, of about 450, is unemployed. The Community Learning Center serves the entire school population of 160 students.

The CLC has been providing an after-school program that includes academic enrichment, exercise classes, sports, crafts and arts, as well as parenting and adult education programs. This school year they added the CPE, thus addressing one more need of the community. Buffitt says that at this stage they have many different activities bringing parents and their young children in the school. “The program goes from ages zero to four. We offer parent workshops, also moms and tots attend exercise classes together; we have library services, daycare services and a program called Rock and Talk. We want to help alleviate the stress on parents and ensure a healthy, safe upbringing of the kids.”

During the first year the CPE operated without government subsidy, offering the service at $7.00 per day. “Since we had no startup budget, the parents donated toys, books, and other resources. It is going very well. We will be an official daycare (government subsidized) as of September 1st, 2010…” Buffitt is very glad that their CLC is moving toward a fuller range of services. “The work is off to a good start and we can now offer opportunities from Early Childhood to Adulthood. We want the CLC to become the hub of the community where all the population is comfortable. “

The goal of CPEs is to provide a warm, healthy and stimulating environment for the children and their families as well as to promote children’s emotional, physical, social, intellectual, cognitive and creative development. CLC’s end is to meet students' and families’ needs and offer lifelong learning opportunities. They can therefore naturally fuse in a community school, such as St. Paul’s, which aims to align the assets of students, families, educators and the community along the common goal of improving the success of young people and their families.