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Half century of Christian education ends at Mennville School

Roger Newman

Declining enrolment is forcing the closing of a North Interlake school that has been delivering Manitoba's education curriculum from a Christian perspective.

Mennville Christian School will permanently shut its doors Tuesday after 57 years of serving predominantly Mennonite families in the Riverton district.

Mennville Board Chairman Paul Peters estimates about 100 people will say farewell Tuesday when a noon picnic is held on the school grounds off the Pine Dock Road northwest of Riverton. He also said there will be mixed emotions about the demise of a school which has been experiencing waning enrolment for a number of years.

"The closing of any institution brings a certain sadness, but at the same time we are thankful for the role the school has played over many years and the difference it has made in the lives of so many students,"Peters said.

Brian Dueck, a past board chairman, said the school was started by two families in 1952 and reached a peak of about 70 students in Kindergarten to Grade 12 in the early 1990s. By last fall, enrolment had dwindled to only 26 students in grades one to eight under the supervision of the equivalent of 2.7 teachers and a teacher's aide.

"We could see the writing on the wall," Dueck said, adding that this knowledge should led to a "bittersweet" picnic combining sadness with happy memories.

Peters said the trend to smaller families was a factor in the school's closing.

"We are like all schools in that respect," he said while citing small community growth and competition from public schools as other factors.

He said most of Mennville's current students will probably enrol next fall in Riverton schools, with a few possibly choosing Morweena Christian School in the Arborg district. The move should go smoothly because Mennville has been a provincially-funded school that hires certified teachers to instruct the Manitoba curriculum.

Some of Mennville's students are already pretty accomplished. Sarah Ireland, an eighth grader, won a Canada-wide National Research Council (NRC) contest this spring. Her poem - visualizing the appearance of the night sky from Mars - was selected tops among the 300 written entries from middle schoolers across the country. An asteroid is to be named after Ireland as part of the NRC's annual Marsville program to foster student interest in space travel and Mars.

Ireland and her Grade 8 classmates would be moving on whether or not Mennville closed. "I'm going to miss the school," says Madison Dueck another imminent graduate and the daughter of Brian Dueck. "But I"m looking forward to going to Riverton Collegiate where I have friends."

Chairman Peters has the last word. "The school has been a real blessing to the Mennville community," he said. "Its success can be attributed to the community's faithfulness through countless hours of volunteering, financial donations and most importantly dedicated prayers."

Other education notes:

* The Evergreen School Division has signed a shared services agreement with the Morweena Christian School of Vidir. The pact will enable Morweena to tap the talents of Evergreen's clinicians and consultants.

Evergreen Assistant Superintendent Doug Anderson said Morweena is the only "half and half" school in the province. It receives partial provincial funding because it employs certified Manitoba teachers in grades 7-12 but not in the lower grades.

* Evergreen has signed a three-year labour agreement with its 112 employees belonging to the Canadian Union of Public Employees. The new contract, retroactive to July 2008, provides yearly increases of three per cent, two-and-a-half per cent and two-and-a-half per cent before it expires in June 2011. It covers office staff, maintentance workers, bus drivers and teachers' aides.

* Dan Howe, the division's operations director, is working on a plan to maximize the efficiency of Evergreen bus routes in the fall. He has been told by trustees that the can buy a $9,500 computer mapping program if he can find the money in the transportation budget.

* Superintendent Paul Cuthbert has turned down an invitation to accompany a Canadian Education Association international delegation to China. "It would have been nice, but the money is beyond my professional development budget," he told trustees.

* Cuthbert is also "very disappointed" that Evergreen only received $3,000 when it requested $300,000 in four grant applications to enhance technical vocational education. He said Education Minister Peter Bjornson sent a letter announcing the $3,000, but word on the rejection of the rest of the grant package came from a department bureaucrat.

This left the impression at the latest board meeting that Bjornson only deals in good news and leaves the bad to be handled by his dogsbodies. However, Cuthbert said he was simply making an observation and not an implication that should trigger an inference by his listeners.

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