Roxanne Harris, principal of Qwam Qwum Stuwixwulh Community School, shows plans for a new and larger school that will be built on Snuneymuxw land in Cedar. TAMARA CUNNINGHAM/News Bulletin

Snuneymuxw plan to open new, larger school

New $10.7-million school coming to Cedar

Students could hit the books at a new Cedar school come 2019.

Snuneymuxw First Nation is on the cusp of breaking ground on a new, $10.7-million band school in Cedar.

The Qwam Qwum Stuwixwulh School on Centre Street is a 20-year-old building where students of all backgrounds from pre-school to Grade 7 can learn the B.C. curriculum and become immersed in culture and the Hul’qumi’num language every day.

A big part of what the school does is the revitalization of language and culture, according to principal Roxanne Harris, who also said it’s important to instill pride in students of who they are and where they come from and to ensure they’re built up strong so when they leave for high school and hopefully university, the transition is easier.

But the school and its 57 students have outgrown their space and the Snuneymuxw First Nation is planning to construct a new building, five times the size, on Gordon Road in Cedar.

“We’re pretty squished in this school,” said Harris, who adds the hope is that with moving to Gordon Road and having more classroom space available, more kids will come, including from Cedar. “Not just from Snuneymuxw First Nation but any students that want to register in our school.”

The exterior of the building is inspired by traditional longhouses, which Harris said were humble and simple in design, and is meant to create a welcoming place for students, their parents and grandparents.

Harris said the past hasn’t been pretty, such as with residential schools, and they wanted to make sure the school represented a welcoming place or something familiar that can “connect us to the past and what we know is a good thing.”

The school will be more than 19,000 square feet, compared to the present 3,800-square foot, four-classroom portable. The concept shows separate wings for primary and intermediate students, each with outdoor, covered play areas, as well as a gym, library, elders’ room and language and culture room. There will also be seven classrooms, a dining area for the school breakfast program and a gathering circle where students can go for assemblies.

“It’s really exciting. We’re really close to going to tender and breaking ground,” said Harris, who noted the goal is to move into the school by September 2019.

There is currently one elementary school in Cedar.

Steve Rae, Nanaimo-Ladysmith school board chairman, said the school district is not concerned about the school pulling from enrolment, adding “if it does, it does.”

“I think it [the new school] offers the community of Cedar more choices and I think that from a school perspective it’ll be really interesting to see what they bring and embracing their culture, which is very important,” he said. “I think it’s very important for the Snuneymuxw to protect their heritage and their culture and this is a great move that we at our school district support 100 per cent and anything we can do along the lines to help them achieve their goals, we are fully prepared to do.”

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