Assiginack Public School opens new child care addition

The EarlyON centre within the new addition to the Assiginack Public School building features open and inclusive play spaces for families to gain new skills and techniques. It also hosts structured programming and opportunities for parents to interact with early childhood education staff. photos by Warren Schlote

MANITOWANING – Assiginack families have recently gained access to better-integrated child and family support services through a recently-opened addition to Assiginack Public School that houses an additional classroom, child care space and an EarlyON centre.

“I grew up in the community and the school has always been a pivotal part of the town. People are always worried if we have enough students to keep the school, but now we’re helping children from babies to Grade 8. It truly makes it a community hub,” says Assiginack Public School principal Heather Pennie.

The new facility hosted an open house last Thursday to show families and children the services which they may soon find themselves using. The addition is located in the south corner of the school building and is complete with a separate enclosed play area for the coming warmer weather. 

Inside the addition’s south entrance, a first room houses the EarlyON centre that is designed with both children and families in mind. EarlyON is a drop-in program that allows families to participate in structured programs, play with their children and gather advice from early childhood experts on staff. It offers information and teaches parents how best to support their children in a play-based environment.

Assiginack child care uses the EarlyON space for its before and after school programs. EarlyON is run on the Island through Manitoulin Family Resources, which also oversees EarlyON programs in Little Current and at Central Manitoulin Public School in Mindemoya. Charles C. McLean Public School in Gore Bay does not have a facility on site but receives EarlyON services twice per week through its outreach program.

Having the EarlyON space at Assiginack Public School also serves as an additional resource for the school staff to use when trying to assist parents and families within their school.

“For parents needing additional services, the principal could send the parent to the EarlyON centre and get resources to help them out,” says Kathy Longarini, community outreach co-ordinator at the Rainbow District School Board (RDSB), who was present for the open house.

This includes the full gamut of services that Manitoulin Family Resources provides, including the food bank and its crisis services.

Past a small kitchenette lies the next major room, the child care room run by the Gore Bay Child Care Centre. This room is licenced for a capacity of 15 children and it opened on April 29. Assiginack Child Care and Gore Bay Child Care manager Andrea Lewis oversees the operation of the facility. Gore Bay Child Care has been involved in Assiginack Public School since 2014.

Ms. Lewis says the new facility contains a standard range of up-to-date services that would be found at any contemporary child care service provider.

A number of people were present to celebrate the centre’s open house including, from left, RDSB Manitoulin trustee Margaret Stringer, RDSB community outreach co-ordinator Kathy Longarini, Assiginack Public School principal Heather Pennie and Assiginack Childcare and Gore Bay Childcare manager Andrea Lewis.

Finally, at the end of the new addition lies a brand new classroom. It features unique seating and a bright design that enhances the learning environment. At the time of the open house, the school had been hosting a book fair as a way to invite the children in and walk around the new class that they may find themselves using in the future.

Past the classroom, the hallway takes a couple of turns and joins the halls of the main school in a barrier-free layout.

Ms. Longarini says the decision to bolster the child care and family support services at Assiginack Public School was entirely evidence-based. As part of the planning process with the Manitoulin-Sudbury District Services Board (DSB), decision-makers consult demographic studies to determine the best steps forward. Assiginack was deemed to be among the fastest-growing population centres within the DSB’s service area, leading it to become the natural choice for the centre.

Rainbow District School Board Manitoulin trustee Margaret Stringer also attended the open house. She says the new addition will ensure the school is well-populated and within its capacity limits into the future.

“This will really let parents have an opportunity to feel like they’re part of the school,” she says, referring to the family-oriented programs on offer.

“It really builds that sense of community,” adds Ms. Pennie.