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Preschool offers early learning for Francophones

For more than a dozen years, Les Petits Pieds has provided Francophone toddlers in Airdrie a place to learn their parents’ language and culture.

Now, the city’s sole Francophone preschool is hoping to increase the community’s awareness of its programming.

“My main concern is, people do not know we exist,” said Geneviève Gagné, an early childhood educator at Les Petits Pieds. “They know about Les Petits Amis – the French immersion preschool in Airdrie – but they do not know that we’re located in the Francophone school.

“It’s been open for more than 12 years now. It’s been around for a very long time, so people need to know about it.”

Based out of a classroom at École francophone d’Airdrie in the southeast community of Ravenswood, Les Petits Pieds – French for ‘the little feet’ – is a non-profit preschool that serves three- and four-year-old French speakers and learners. The school is a part of the Conseil Scolaire du Sud de l’Alberta – the school board for Francophone schools in southern Alberta.

The preschool, which offers morning and afternoon classes, has a capacity of 56 students – 24 three-year-olds and 32 four-year-olds, with each split into two even groups. Gagné said neither age group is currently at capacity, and added registration is open year-round. 

“We do have an educational [curriculum], but it’s preschool, so even if a kid arrives in the middle of the year, it doesn’t really matter,” she said.

With enrolment down this year, she added, the preschool almost had to cancel one of its four classes.

“In November [2019], we were ready to close one of the classes in the afternoon for the three-year-olds, because there wasn’t enough registration,” she said.

“We know there are more families than what we [currently] have that would come to the preschool, that would benefit from it – even if they’re Anglophone and want their kid in immersion.”

After finishing preschool, the students at Les Petits Pieds typically continue with their K-12 education at École francophone d’Airdrie.

Robyn Robertson, the treasurer of the preschool's board of directors, said learning both French and English at a young age provides many benefits to children.

“It’s easier to absorb when you're young, not just language but other things as well," she said. "When we get that base in them when they’re young, it carries forward with them. It’s easier to re-access that information, even if you stop using it and come back to it later in life.”

While Airdrie is not necessarily a Francophone-heavy community, Gagné said, there is still a sizeable French-speaking population. According to Statistics Canada census data, 1,185 Airdronians indicated French was their first language in 2016, while more than 4,700 said they speak both French and English.

“When I go to Dollarama, Safeway or Co-op, I can say that every day, I hear French,” she said. “Every day, someone will comment on something I said or, at the very least, say, ‘Bonjour.’”

While registration for the current school year is ongoing, Gagné said, registration for September 2020 begins Jan. 31.

Another event on Les Petits Pieds’ horizon, according to Gagné, is the Preschool Parade, set for Jan. 25 at the Goldenrod Community Hall, located west of Airdrie along Highway 567.

“Every preschool will be there, they’ll be able to bring the kids and the parents will be able to talk to us,” she said.

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