Manitoba has issued $595,000 for expanding the Community Schools Program in the province which includes making La Verendrye School (LVS) Portage's second of its kind. North Memorial School has been our only Community School up until this point, and the Portage School Division is thrilled to see the new addition.

Education Minister Wayne Ewasko made the announcement on-site at La Verendrye School on Tuesday. He explains the entire concept first began as a Pilot Project in 2004.

"It was a promising initiative that would bring together students, families, and neighbourhoods to increase educational outcomes for its students," says Ewasko. "A lot has happened since then. With increases in funding for the program and the addition of more Community Schools over the years, and the creation of Community Schools Act, the promise of a better future for students became a reality."

Ewasko says the philosophy of the Community Schools program remains the same due to its incredibly successful run.

"It addresses student and family well-being," continues Ewasko. "Community Schools have become an integral part of the community's efforts, and continue to advance student school readiness, attendance, family, and community engagement. School programs such as Early Childhood Literacy programming, Breakfast and Lunch programs, Parenting, Information programs, Before School, Evening, Weekend, and Summer programs, Mentoring, and Youth Development programs help to address the effects of poverty and help families, organizations, and schools work together to strengthen the family and community unit."

Currently, he notes 36 northern rural and urban schools throughout Manitoba have such a school, and they serve about 8,700 students. 

"Today's announcement of additional funding will add five schools from across the province to the program, as well as expand the scope of programming currently offered to 15 Kindergarten to Grade 6 schools, 20 Kindergarten to Grade 8 schools, and one high school," explains Ewasko. "This is helping extend the benefits of resources and services to more than 10,000 children. As Minister of Education and Early Childhood Learning, I am proud to announce the five new schools added to the Community Schools program. This includes Juniper School and Burntwood School in the District of Mystery Lake, Robert Smith School in the Lord Selkirk School Division, La Verendrye School right here in beautiful Portage la Prairie, and École Salisbury Morse Place School in the River East Transcona School Division."

School Division Superintendent Todd Cuddington says La Verendrye School has already been a community school. He notes today it has gained that official status.

"No one knows more about that than Michelle Laidlaw who was instrumental in the launching of our first Community School at North Memorial," says Cuddington. "The fact that we now have two of our North End schools coming under the umbrella of Community Schools is just a great opportunity for us to expand the programming that we have in place. There are so many things that are being done at this school by our teachers, our support staff, and our administration, and then supported through our outreach program. We are only going to be able to expand those things with the latest announcement. So, I really do appreciate the fact that this is coming to Portage la Prairie and that we're going to have these wonderful services for our students and families."

Principal Michelle Laidlaw says the announcement holds great potential for the positive impact on the families at the LVS.

"I was first familiar with Community Schools in my previous position at North Memorial, and in my time there, was principal," notes Laidlaw. "We received funding for Building Student Success with Indigenous parents and joined the Community Schools network. That meant we adopted the Community Schools philosophy and approach. Programs such as Walking School Bus and Preschool Parties were initiated to connect with families. Staff volunteered and did fundraising to provide additional services."

She says North Memorial School received Community Schools funding in 2017 which allowed the school to expand its services to families and host events that promote well-being, to work with the families and the community, to learn from them, and to better meet their needs.

Laidlaw explains the goal of Community Schools has been to help the children and their families have a sense of belonging and ownership in their education. Laidlaw says this philosophy actually proposes that parents are the first teachers of their students and are their lifelong teachers.

By being able to provide supports to families, the outcomes of students will always see improvement. 

"After their Grade Six year, the students from North Memorial transitioned to La Verendrye School," adds Laidlaw. "When I began here, it was evident that the families here face many of the same challenges. Once again, we adopted those familiar philosophies finding ways to connect. Community Schools funding will now allow La Verendrye to provide the resources, programming, and remove barriers to better support our families and strengthen the family unit. Our focus is to build authentic partnerships with the community to better educate our youth using the holistic lens." 

Laidlaw adds Community Schools are able to provide an inclusive learning environment, and they strive to foster a sense of belonging in their families to provide programming in preschool support attendance initiatives, remove barriers to local service providers, and build bridges and relationships based on an open, friendly and welcoming atmosphere. 

"We can assist with access to public health clinics, mobile vision screening clinics, summer programming, nutrition resources, and services that promote overall well-being," notes Laidlaw. 

Ewasko the funding means that La Verendrye School should receive about $80,000 of the overall amount.