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French language school in Smithers offers community and connection

Smaller, multi-age classrooms bring unique benefits
There are many outdoor learning opportunities at la Grande-Ourse thanks to its size and capacity to get outside quickly.

In the not-so-distant past, community living was the norm, with people coming together for safety, socialization and to share resources.

In today’s world the concept of community has changed dramatically – with the impact of this seen in children’s education.

“People are looking for community,” says Helene Fleury, Principal at École la Grande-Ourse in Smithers. “When it comes to their child’s education, they recognize that it takes a village to raise a child.”

Since 2019, École la Grande-Ourse has been providing public education in French as a first language to students who meet the federal government criteria from Kindergarten to Grade 7. The school offers community and connection in a 100 per cent francophone setting.

“Students speak French whether they are in class, at lunchtime or during recess,” says Fleury.

This unique framework fosters lifelong bilingualism in students who live in French at school as they evolve in a predominantly Anglophone society.

“In addition to French fluency, one of the first things parents notice as they tour the school is that children of different ages are learning and socializing together happily within each classroom,” Fleury says. “Multi-age classrooms help create a strong feeling of family, along with many other benefits for our children. When we talk to parents, I often hear them say ‘My child says they’re excited to come to school!”

At la Grande-Ourse it’s easy to organize and mobilize for field trips and other educational outings.
At la Grande-Ourse it’s easy to organize and mobilize for field trips and other educational outings.

The benefits of a multi-age classroom

Learn diverse social skills – Smaller multi-age classrooms help children socially and academically, with students learning skills in an integrated, authentic context. This reflects the natural groupings in society – in our neighbourhoods and communities – providing opportunities for the exchange of ideas and experiences.

“This cooperation and caring makes it possible for children to help each other as individuals, rather than see each other as competitors,” Fleury says.

Emphasis on the student, not curriculum – Unlike same-grade classrooms where children are often expected to be at the same place at the same time, regardless of ability, viewing children as unique individuals lets teachers focus on teaching each student according to their strengths and learning styles.

“Children can take charge of their learning with more autonomy, with opportunities to choose what they work on,” Fleury says. “This gives them a sense of self-direction that’s valuable for lifelong learning.”

Peer learning – Younger children are inspired by watching older students perform more advanced work, while mentoring younger students instills a leadership mindset and reinforces the older students’ own learning.

“It’s very beneficial when older kids can mentor younger ones, even in terms of shifting our own teaching strategies – and it’s also pretty cute!” Fleury says.

It is apparent that École la Grande-Ourse has a unique model that helps students strengthen their Francophone identity and language while developing a sense of belonging – thanks to a welcoming community.

École la Grande-Ourse will be having an Open House on February 9, from 9 a.m. to noon. Enrolment for the 2023-24 school year is underway.

Follow them on Facebook, learn more at or call Helene Fleury at 778-210-2014 to plan a visit and schedule a tour.