Too soon to get excited? Nine new K4 classes

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Allyson Beauregard

MRC PONTIAC & PONTIAC – At the beginning of March, the province announced that 34 new prekindergarten (K4) classes will open in the Outaouais this coming school year. Of these, seven are located in the MRC Pontiac and two in the Municipality of Pontiac.

Allyson Beauregard

MRC PONTIAC & PONTIAC – At the beginning of March, the province announced that 34 new prekindergarten (K4) classes will open in the Outaouais this coming school year. Of these, seven are located in the MRC Pontiac and two in the Municipality of Pontiac.
The majority of the new classes are within the Commission scolaire des Hauts-Bois-de-l’Outaouais: École Saint-Pierre in Fort-Coulonge (x2); École Notre-Dame-du-Sacré-Cœur in l’Isles-aux-Allumettes; l’Envolée in Campbell’s Bay; École Sainte Anne in l’Île-du-Grand-Calumet; and École Sainte Marie in Otter Lake. Within the Commission scolaire des Portages de l’Outaouais, École Notre-Dame-de-la-Joie in Luskville and École Sainte-Marie in Quyon will also have new 4K classes.
After nearly two decades of advocating for a funded Pre-K program in Shawville, a class will also be offered at McDowell Elementary.  
During a meeting on March 8 with Mathieu Lacombe, Minister of Families and Minister Responsible for the Outaouais region, the presidents of the Outaouais’ four francophone school boards emphasized that they are not against additional 4K classes, but that a concerted effort is needed to find solutions for the lack of space, teaching staff and support personnel already plaguing the boards.
Ministry regulations currently direct 4K program funding toward disadvantaged areas; schools are given a rating level depending on various factors like the education level of local mothers and average incomes. The WQSB currently offers full-time K4 programs in three local schools – Dr. Wilbert Keon in L’Isle-aux-Allumettes, Onslow in Quyon, and St. John’s in Campbell’s Bay – but because McDowell’s catchment area wasn’t considered disadvantaged, this school was ineligible.
Consequently, a parent co-op was formed over 15 years ago to coordinate a Pre-K program for McDowell; the WQSB funded about four months of the year and parents paid the remaining out of pocket, costing about $1,000 per child in recent years. However, updated statistics (2006) and widened criteria for what is considered disadvantaged resulted in McDowell dropping from Level 6 to 9 this year.  
The news of the program is welcomed by the co-op, but according to Alina Holmes, co-op president, it’s too early to get overly excited. “There’s still a lot to decide. We know there will be some sort of funded program, but don’t know how it will be implemented. Will it be full-time? Will it begin in September or later in the year? Are staff and supplies available? … There are still a lot of logistics to determine,” she explained.
More to come?
Jean-François Roberge, Minister of Education, presented Bill 5, which amends the Education Act, in the National Assembly, February 14. The Bill calls for gradual, universal access to full-time kindergarten for all 4 year olds. 
“Currently, free Pre-K programs are only available in some disadvantaged areas. However, learning difficulties do not have a postal code and all children in Québec should be able to benefit from these services,” said Roberge. The criteria of what qualifies as a disadvantaged area has been widened and the goal is to make Pre-K programs available to everyone within five years.
For the 2019-2020 school year, 644 Pre-K classes are expected to be available across the province, of which 250 are new.