The new $20-million Sister Alphonse Academy, which opened Sept. 4, is named after the first Catholic teacher in St. Albert.Matthew Bodnarek, Grandin Media

St. Albert’s newest school draws inspiration from missionary sister for state-of-the-art learning

The start of the new school year also marks the opening of a new school in St. Albert.

Named after the first Catholic teacher in St. Albert, Sister Alphonse Academy is the first new school in the Greater St. Albert Catholic Regional District in 25 years.

The $20-million, 3,834 square-metre facility has a vast, sweeping front lobby, allowing visitors to see the school offices, library and chapel in one glance. The school also has a large kitchen for cooking classes, a design lab, a recreation academy – or special programming – for archery, curling and rock climbing, and a workshop.

Sister Alphonse Academy has a large kitchen for cooking classes.Chris Berthelot, Grandin Media

Not only is the building new, so are the teaching methods, said Greg Lamer, the principal of Sister Alphonse Academy, a Kindergarten to Grade 9 school that can accommodate up to 425 students.Project-based learning has students applying what they learn, such as using design classes to run a farmer’s market or using math to calculate the amount of paint needed for a renovation.

Principal Greg Lamer

“We want to change the focus a little bit from a 20th century model, which was very product driven, to maybe more of a process-driven learning experience for kids, where we focus more on the whole journey of learning,” Lamer said.

“What we’ve learned is that we’re all different kinds of learners, we all have different styles, so we need to set our kids up in the best way that they learn.”

Superintendent David Keohane adds: “You can do more to intervene and personalize education as a student grows from Kindergarten right through to Grade 9. You can do more with that than you can with a student growing simply from Grade 7 to Grade 9.”

Students, parents and school officials had a sneak peek at Sister Alphonse Academy on Aug. 23, and it left a big impression, in particular the school’s open concept design.

“I really liked it! I like pretty much everything. I like it a lot better than all the schools I’ve been to,” Benjamin Bourgeois, who will be in Grade 4. His brother Brody will be in Grade 2.

“I thought it’s such a different concept of an open school,” added his mom, Jillian Bourgeois. “This is how new, modern work spaces are going, and they’re incorporating it now for even the younger people.”

Sister Alphonse Academy has an open concept classroom with rocking chairs and standing desks.Chris Berthelot, Grandin Media

The 12 teachers at Sister Alphonse Academy helped to design the classrooms, which include optional rocker chairs and standing desks. Grace Lobel, a teacher, had a carpenter make small tables for prayer in each classroom and a movable wooden altar for the chapel.

“That’s what I love in here, is that you get to manipulate and move this place to whatever you’re doing.”

Brody and Benjamin Bourgeois, and their mother Jillian, love the new school.Chris Berthelot, Grandin Media

The school’s namesake, Sister Marie Jacques-Alphonse, was a member of the Sisters of Charity of Montreal — also known as the Grey Nuns — who accompanied the Oblates of Mary Immaculate to St. Albert in 1863.

While raising seven orphaned children, she also cared for the elderly and the homeless. She spoke Cree and reached out to Indigenous people, and made straw hats and clothes to support the St. Albert community.

The Greater St. Albert Catholic district will be opening another new school in 2020. St. Kateri Tekakwitha Academy, a Kindergarten to Grade 6 school in Morinville, is named after North America’s first Indigenous saint.

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