Colville Lake's band manager hopes a new school building planned for the community will help solve high dropout rates, teacher turnover, and the logistical challenges of teaching K-12 in a one-room school.
Band manager Joseph Kochon said the community and the Department of Education, Culture, and Employment are discussing how the new school will look. The potential cost of the school remains confidential during those discussions, he said.
Kochon said the building of a new school is a long time coming and has been requested by Colville Lake for more than a decade. More than 50 of the Sahtu community's 159 residents are school-aged children, he added, and the community is growing.
The school is currently located in a one-room log house and a second building called the "small school," together housing 57 students from kindergarten to Grade 10. The main building is meant to house students in Grades 5 to 12, although only students up to Grade 10 were enrolled this past school year. The "small school" houses students from junior kindergarten to Grade 4.
There are currently issues, Kochon said, with noise and overcrowding. "Right now, with the one-room school, there's not much privacy," he said. "So having a school that can accommodate each of the grades, that's going to bring some comfort."
In recent years, many students have moved to other communities for Grades 10 to 12. Four years ago, funding for a full-time high-school teacher was cut – and later attempts to reinstate Grades 10 to 12 failed as parents had already enrolled children elsewhere.
Grades 10 to 12 were offered this past school year but only Grade 10 students attended, Sahtu superintendent Renee Closs confirmed by email to Cabin Radio. Funding for the higher grades is "based on the previous year’s enrolment and the dollar amount is determined by the enrolment in the month of September of the previous year," Closs explained.
"We are anxiously awaiting the new school to better serve the students," she stated. "We are looking for this new facility to provide stronger infrastructure for all students in Colville Lake."
Both the school and teachers' housing have been plagued by issues with the sewer system this year, which may be one factor in what residents say is a worrying rate of turnover.
"Almost every year we're having a whole new slate of teachers," Kochon said. "So I guess it all boils down to the accommodations we have to have."
The territory's education department is studying the work required, spokesperson Jacqueline McKinnon stated in an email. Studies complete to date include a "technical assessment of the existing school" and "preliminary geotechnical observation" of potential sites where the new school could be housed.
According to a request for proposals regarding geotechnical and environmental work – which closed in late August – several sites have been identified where the school could be built. Site A is the preferred option, currently a vacant lot.
A detail from an NWT government request for proposals shows potential sites for a new school in Colville Lake.
According to Kochon, the community ran its own feasibility study for the new school and found, among other things, residents would like to see a full-size gym built to host sports like volleyball, which is popular locally.
Residents also expressed an interest in facilities such as a computer room or space to learn carpentry.
"We want to make sure we add on what kids can learn in school, versus not learning anything at all," said Kochon, saying ongoing discussion with education officials were "all positive."