Above: Leia Kerwin, Jean-Samuel Nyembo, Mr. Olivier Murzeau and Melodie Fleck-Saito.

By Denise Bacon

There’s a gem tucked away in our community that quietly sparkles at the end of Meadowvale Road at Lawrence Ave. École élémentaire catholique Saint-Michel (Saint-Michel Catholic Elementary School), or known simply as “Saint-Michel,” opened its doors six years ago to provide French-language education for children from Junior Kindergarten to Grade 6.

Walking in the doors of Saint-Michel is like stepping into another culture where children of ages four to twelve are comfortably speaking with each other in French. The small school of 210 students, 14 teachers, and 12 staff members, including a part-time librarian, Early Childhood Educators, Teachers Aids, Custodian and office staff works like a big family, all pulling for each other, and all full of Saint-Michel pride.

Principal Caroline Sodhi effusively talked about the spirit in the school. One of the factors that contributes to the strong community at the school, said Principal Sodhi, is the French language which creates a bond among this small group in the larger anglophone context in Toronto. The school promotes a “safe and positive” school climate through a special program based on rewarding positive behaviour which is integrated across all classrooms and student activities. The students, big and little, exude politeness, discipline and friendliness. They made me feel very welcome as I met with different groups of students.

Children come to Saint-Michel from across a large area, including from right here in Centennial, since there are only 48 elementary schools in Ontario in the Conseil scolaire catholique MonAvenir. School buses and parents transport children from farther away every day

This small school of ten classrooms belies the BIG character it has. It is humming with extra-curricular activities including a variety of sports teams, choir and clubs for robotics, knitting and environment (Eco Club). Sports include a popular Francophone community game of kinball. School excursions include the unusual activity of mushroom picking, a tradition in France, followed by cooking and eating the mushrooms in the teachers’ room.

Students proudly compete in various activities with other schools in the board. Grade 4 student, Jean-Samuel Nyembo, proudly showed off his silver medal that he and his teammate won recently at the Rookie (Robotics) Challenge. Leia Kerwin and Melodie Fleck-Saito, Grade 5 students, made bigger, more complex robots to compete in the EV3 Robotics Sumo challenge where robots go head to head with each other. Teacher, Olivier Murzeau, hailing from France, teaches the students not just about robotics, but how to become good e-citizens.

Above: Members of the Eco Club with Ms Nadine Archambault.

Madeleine Chahine and Nora Nana-Sandjo, Grade 4 students, were excited to talk about what they do in the Eco Club. They recently made all-natural lip balms which the club members sold to other students. The money raised will go towards purchasing a rain barrel for the school. The water gathered in this rain barrel will be used to water the vegetables that the students will be planting from seeds. Teachers Nadine Archambault and Catherine Smith are passionate about the environment and their passion contagion has been picked up by the students. A battery drive changed behaviour not just among students, but many parents, too, started collecting dead batteries from neighbours and friends and bringing them into the school.

Every Monday is “Zero Waste Lunches”. Eco Club students audit classrooms to record the number of lunches that had no waste. Reusable containers and no plastic wrap are a must. Left over food is collected in compost bins in every classroom.

Tuesday brings the anticipation of the morning announcement about which classroom had the highest participation of “Zero Waste Lunches”!

Saint-Michel is gearing up to apply for an environmental certification from Ontario EcoSchools as a validation of their efforts and to motivate them to reach higher levels of environmental achievement. Teachers, students and parents are consciously active in their efforts to save the environment. Food prepared and served as part of the breakfast program for children is moving away from single serve containers and individually plastic wrapped snacks to healthier options like fruit where waste is composted.

The school has recently started a new recycling program to collect old pens, pencils and markers that would otherwise go into the garbage. They have connected with a recycling organization that will pick up and recycle these items to keep them out of landfills. Centennial neighbours are invited to drop off old pens, pencils and markers at the school office between 8 a.m. and 3 p.m. to help this cause.

Ecole Saint-Michel, a young new neighbour in Centennial is making a positive difference right here among us. We will be seeing more students as the school reputation soars and more and more students enrol. Now when you see young people in school uniforms in our neighbourhood, greet them with “allo” or “bonjour!”