Port Renfrew Elementary School could receive more than $200,000 in provincial subsidies in 2017, despite a record-low number of students.
Earlier this year, the Sooke School District applied for a Rural Enhancement Grant –provincewide funds meant to aid smaller rural schools such as Port Renfrew, said Sooke School District superintendent Jim Cambridge.
“We were very concerned about the number of children in the school and the costs of operating it, so we can expect it sometime next year,” he said.
The school won’t shut down, but with only six students, its progress this year isn’t what was expected, Cambridge added.
“We were expecting to see 12 children this year, so six is quite a drop,” he said. “When you’re dealing with small numbers, that can happen very quickly. Two families move out and that could be half the school population.”
Right now, the school is staffed by a teacher, an educational assistant and a support teacher.
Cambridge added part of why student numbers have declined is the school’s limited kindergarten to Grade 5 levels, and that the school district has considered ideas such as expanding the grades and offer a middle school to possibly stimulate attendance.
Still, though, it’s not that simple.
“It’s a catch-22. The more kids you have, the better the offerings there can be, and more variety in the school. But then people are hesitant to do it if there aren’t enough kids to begin with,” Cambridge said.
Despite what today’s student numbers at Port Renfrew Elementary suggest, the school was packed with 120 kids more than 30 years ago, recalled Sooke School District board chair Bob Phillips, who served as a child protection worker there in the mid-1970s.
“The numbers in the school fluctuated based on the economics of the community,” Phillips said, adding logging and mill closures caused the population to decline, causing droves of families to move closer to urban centres.
Given its size, the school had kitchen facilities, an in-house library, among other amenities, making it feel “like a mini community centre.”
Where and how next year’s grant will be used in the school’s favour remains to be explored, Phillips noted.