In one local community, a novel solution to fill empty space at school

Despite skyrocketing enrolment at some schools in the London area, one in a Lake Erie village has so few pupils – now 105 – a plan is in place to keep its Grade 6 kids for two extra years to help offset falling enrolment.

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Grade 6 pupils at Port Burwell public school are being asked to remain at the school for grades 7 and 8, amid declining enrollment at the school in the village of about 800, 70 kilometers southeast of London.

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Bruce Smith, a Thames Valley District school board trustee representing the area, said the board saw an opportunity to “improve the situation for everyone and solve the problem.

“The closer the school is to the child’s home, the better it is for everyone,” he said. “I’ve heard only positive things about it.”

Normally, pupils would attend Straffordville public school for grades 7 and 8 before heading to East Elgin secondary school in Aylmer.

The board’s “long-term vision” would see Port Burwell public school become a kindergarten to Grade 8 school, Thames Valley officials said in a recent memo to parents.

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The board is holding a meeting at 6 pm on Thursday, Feb. 15 at which superintendent Paul Sydor and Elgin County trustees Meagan Ruddock and Smith will answer questions.

Shuttering the school is out of question because, in 2017, the Ontario Liberal government slapped a moratorium on closing schools due to low enrollment amid backlash from parents. So far, the government of Doug Ford has upheld that moratorium.

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Declining enrollment is a trend the Thames Valley District school board is seeing less of as attendance at some schools spikes in urban centers such as Woodstock, St. Thomas and London.

In areas of London that are growing, some new schools open with portable classrooms already outside.

Since 2019, the board has added at least 6,000 students, bumping its enrollment to around 84,000 students, board officials say.

Last August both of the region’s major school boards – Thames Valley and London District Catholic – experienced such explosive growth they needed almost 70 new laptops to handle 6,200 additional students.

Last fall, board staff sent business cases for seven new schools and one addition to the Education Ministry for approval.

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