DUNMORE, AB — Rural school divisions are keeping an eye on enrolment numbers at smaller schools and the transportation changes which may have to be made in the future.
Brandi Stroh lives approximately 10 kilometres south of Elkwater and has three children — aged 14, 10 and eight years old — who rely on the bus to get to Irvine School, the closest school to them, every day. Stroh says the bus ride typically lasts one hour and 20 minutes both ways.
“Especially when they were younger…it is a concern,” she said. “It extends their day by two-and-a-half to three hours each days, and when you’re talking about a five-year-old, it affects them in regards to many things, even their attention span just getting to school. They’re exhausted for the first portion of their day.”
Stroh says she and her husband briefly considered home-schooling their children due to the distance, but ultimately decided against it, due to the two of them having to work.
It’s a decision which has been discussed in other parts of the province, as rural school populations stay stagnant or begin shrinking.
Irvine School is overseen by the Prairie Rose School Division, which also oversees schools in rural areas in southeast Alberta.
The division currently has 92 bus routes which shuttle 2,052 students to and from school each day.
“We look at where kids are in respect to their school’s attendance and plan accordingly with respect to times and distances,” said Derek Beck, director of transportation for the division, who added the routes are examined every year.
Beck added school buses drive more than 19,000 kilometres each day through the division.
Alberta Education currently funds rural transportation based on a formula that takes into account student population density and the distances students travel.
Prairie Rose has not been immune to declining enrolments in rural areas in the province. In 2009, the division closed Manyberries School and New Brigden School near Oyen reported only two students enrolled this school year. The division is conducting a feasibility study on the school to determine its future.
Stuart Angle, PRSD board chair, says the board is always paying attention to enrolment numbers, and tries to ensure there is a balance between ride time and students who need to be served.
He noted when Manyberries School closed, the board gave families an option of which schools they could attend and shuffled transportation accordingly.
“The students will be transported to the nearest school, in any event,” he said.
Angle says the division and the province are in regular communication about transportation. He says one of the difficulties rural school boards across the province faces is enrolment stagnation.
Currently, Prairie Rose has 2,968 students enrolled in public schools and 294 enrolled at Hutterite schools in the region.
“As enrolments change, it doesn’t mean your length of bus ride is going to change,” he said. “If someone gets off in the middle of the route, it doesn’t change the mileage for the route.
“The student at the end of the route hasn’t moved.”
Stroh says she is hoping school divisions and the province will remain in conversation to ensure all students have access to education. Stroh added she is thankful to the bus service in the region.
“I know in past years, there were people who have lived as far south as we have, and some who lived farther, and they were meeting the buses,” she said. “Parents had to drive to meet the buses, whereas now, we’re very fortunate that the buses come directly into our yard and pick up our kids.”
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