École St. Thomas students slide across the school yard as part of Carnaval. (Photo submitted by: Nikita Ganovicheff, mylloydminsternow.com)
Evelyne Seewalt is a longtime Lloydminster resident. In fact, she’s been a part of the community for over 35 years. During her time here, a recognition she holds dear is being a founding member of the French Immersion program at École St. Thomas Elementary.
“It certainly was not in my vision. My vision was selfish in that I wanted my children to learn and speak French,” says Seewalt.
In the beginning, she and other parents gathered 25 other families to take part in the French Immersion program.
“It started as a very small group of children in kindergarten and grade 1 at the St. Thomas School located downtown.”
However, the program continued to grow and now has 550 students in it. Seewalt says another important part of the program, at the start, was being a part of the Canadian Parents for French. The national volunteer group that advocates for bilingual opportunities in Canadian schools.
On January 4, Seewalt was asked to come to visit École St. Thomas and take part in their 35th year of Carnaval celebrations. Alumni and former staff also came by the school to celebrate and highlight its growth.
“Now I feel like a real grandma,” she says laughing. “I feel like a real pioneer in French Immersion in Lloydminster.”
Seewalt says even in its first year, the school still had Carnaval with la tire d’érable and winter activities. Principal Lisa Marie Kreese says it was exciting getting them together and showing them how much the program has changed.
“They really wanted French for their children and now their children and grandchildren are living in French [communities] or have some use of French in their lives. So their dream and passion paid off over time and I’m just proud to be a part of that history.”
Kreese says, outside of fun and games, the francophone tradition lets children improve their language skills in a playful way outside of the classroom.
“When they are going back and forth in French that’s when it comes alive. That’s when the vocabulary really sticks. When they remember pushing someone on the sleds and speaking to them in French, those are the experiences they remember.”
The Carnaval festivities will continue for the students throughout the week ending with a pancake breakfast on Friday, January 7. Seewalt says Canadian Parents for French continues to be a part of Carnaval as they were giving out hot chocolate to the students.