By Quinton Amundson, The Catholic Register
[Toronto – Canadian Catholic News] – Catholic school enrolment has skyrocketed to new heights in many regions across Canada, especially in and around London, Ont., and Saskatoon, SK.
Over 26,000 students signed up to learn at London District Catholic School Board (LDCSB) institutions this year, an increase of more than 2,000 from 2022-23. Burgeoning student growth within LDCSB is driven by London’s status as Ontario’s fastest-growing city over the past few years, according to 2022 Statistics Canada data. From 2016 to 2021, its population zoomed upward 10 per cent from 383,822 to 422,324 people.
According to a snapshot released this past January, another 16,844 people — signifying over three per cent growth — became Londoners. The report indicates that 6,167 newcomers are non-permanent residents, and 4,673 are Ontarians moving from other urban or rural communities.
Sudden mammoth growth forces school administrators into solving a complex logistical puzzle: how do you possibly try and fit all these students when you have limited space to spare?
“We had to build over 40 portables this year, which is the same amount we had to build the previous school year to accommodate the growth,” said Debbie Jordan, the executive superintendent of business and corporate services for the LDCSB. “We are nearing capacity systemwide. …There are various options we are looking at right now. It could be moving students to a place where we do have capacity, temporarily. We could identify opportunities such as offering specialty courses in two locations, as opposed to one, (to) even out the balance in student load. The other option is if we do fill up, and we haven’t built these schools that we require in the time frame, we would have to look for spaces in existing spaces and community spots.”
Immigration and refugees power the population boom in Saskatoon, home to nearly 280,000 people. The January data from Statistics Canada denotes the city welcomed 7,121 immigrants and 1,553 non-permanent residents in 2022.
More than 2,500 new faces have entered Saskatoon elementary and secondary learning facilities over the past two years. In other words, the GSCS has “added the equivalent of five schools in less than three years,” said Diane Boyko, chair of the school board for the past 14 years.
The war in Ukraine and a tradition of Nigeria-to-Saskatoon immigration are two of the growth propellants.
No building projects proposed by the GSCS have received the green light since 2017. Boyko said this needs to change soon. “There is a real urgency to build new elementary and high schools as we seem to be on an upward trajectory,” said Boyko. “Pre-planning and facilities are important.”
Non-traditional locations like breakout spaces, band rooms and computer labs are now functioning as classrooms. The GSCS also requested funding for 19 portable classrooms, but the provincial ministry of education only agreed to subsidize five portables.