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Time to listen to Mennonite voices

Sep 02, 2014 12:00 pm

The Mennonite community of Two Hills has been waiting patiently for a new school, but their patience – judging from the reaction at an Aug. 28 meeting - may be wearing thin.

In 2000, when the Mennonite people started to move into Two Hills, they toyed with the idea of setting up their own school. St. Paul Education Regional Division provided the aging former Two Hills school as a space for these students, a solution that seemed to work for everyone.

But over time, the Mennonite population grew, with the old school bursting at the seams and portables being added year on year. Complaints surfaced about the sufficient lack of space, a lack of washrooms, poorly sealed windows and more, with the school finally getting government approval for a new building in 2010.

Since then, the Mennonites of Two Hills have been waiting.

Their attitude of being patient, not pushing and accepting the process around the building of the new school has been put to the test, most recently due to delays over water issues from hitting an old water well at the site and a resulting necessary re-design to some of the building components.

Their frustration over a process that has dragged on for four years boiled over at a Thursday meeting, where the majority of those attending called for a change in the site. The current location and plan for the building is already too small to house their booming population; with another 80 children joining the school this year, the school will need more portables by the time it is finally built. The presence of the water well is also a cause for concern for the community, who worry if any new school will be safe for their children.

The surrounding community around Two Hills and Myrnam both benefit greatly from the presence of Mennonite families, in the economic growth they bring the area and in enrolment numbers that would be the envy of several other rural schools. That growth helps support the entire school division.

Cornelio Neufeld, a parent council member for the school, is one person who has quietly noted the progress of other projects around the school division, including the building of the new Glen Avon School, the modernization of the St. Paul Elementary and Racette schools, and the construction of the new central office.

The Mennonite people do not complain or beg, he said, but they do observe. Now, he said he is starting to hear rumblings that perhaps the community should take matters into its own hands and set up its own school, which would be a loss to the entire division.

To date, the Mennonite people in the area have not been very politically involved, and may not always be out to vote. The result has been, likely, a tendency for the political system not to press for their needs and their voice.

That political engagement, say members of the Mennonite community, is evolving, with the recognition that the squeaky wheel is the one that gets the grease.

There is a plan in place for the community to get a school. But the school board and the province need to hear the Mennonite people’s concerns - about the location of the school, about the fact it is already too small to house its existing student population, and about having the room for their children to play while they learn – to show that they are not taking the quiet acceptance of the community for granted.

In a land as rich as Alberta, none of our children should have to go to school in sub-par conditions or under circumstances that cause worry for their safety. All our children deserve a safe, quality place to learn and grow.

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