St. Frances is named in honour of St. Frances Cabrini, (1850-1917), a nun and educator who opened institutions including schools, orphanages and hospitals all over the world. In September 1952, St. Frances students started classes in the basement of St. Joseph School. There were two classes totaling 74 students. Students and staff moved into the new school in January 1953. From 1967 to 1969 St. Frances was the largest Catholic elementary school in the division, serving 505 students in 17 classrooms, some of which were portable. As the Exhibition and surrounding neighbourhoods matured in the 1970s, enrolment declined. Student numbers have grown with the introduction of the Cree bilingual program.
Brief history of Cree bilingual program:
- 2007: In partnership with the Saskatoon Tribal Council, city-wide Cree language programming begins for kindergarten - Grade 3 students at St. Frances.
- Adding one grade per year, the program grew from 40 students to over 600 in 12 years.
- 2017: A Professional Development School with the Indian Teacher Education Program (ITEP) at the University of Saskatchewan’s College of Education is established at St. Frances. This unique model solidified an existing partnership that allows teacher candidates to spend more time at the school to gain valuable experience, while giving them the opportunity to share new and innovative ways of teaching with school staff.
- 2017: Along with our partners the—Saskatoon Tribal Council and the College of Education Indian Teacher Education Program at the University of Saskatchewan—the division is honoured to receive the 2017 Premier’s Board of Education Award for their joint submission of ni ahkwatonâmonân: An Indigenous Language Pathway to Improved Student Learning Outcomes at St. Frances Cree Bilingual School.
- 2018: With no more room to add portable classrooms and expand then 1950s-era school, a contingency plan was implemented to temporarily relocate Grades 6 – 8 to a different school campus on Bateman Cres.
- 2019: Grade 9 instruction is added to the Bateman Cres location.
- March 2019: After years of consultations and lobbying, the Government of Saskatchewan commits to planning funding for a new school.
- March 2020: The Government of Saskatchewan announces funding for a new St. Frances Cree bilingual School to be located on the site of the former Sion Middle School on 7th Street East.
About Cree language and cultural programming:
In addition to treaty education—that’s taught in all of our schools—and Cree language instruction, students and families at St. Frances Cree Bilingual School support Cree culture and heritage programming at the school. The school’s Young Wolves drum group, traditional flute players powwow dance troupe and annual powwows have been integral in helping students embrace traditional aspects of their Indigenous heritage. Elders and teachers support the implementation of traditional Cree ceremonial practices throughout the school day.
This focus on language and culture increases student interest and engagement in learning, which in turn bears fruit for student learning. Reading, writing and math outcomes have grown steadily, and we know integration of culture and language will continue to help us narrow the learning gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous learners. Cree bilingual students have the highest Gr. 9 retention rate among First Nations and Métis students in our school division, which is a good start to higher graduation rates.
St. Frances has also become a school of choice for Cree teachers from across Saskatchewan because they are able to share their knowledge and Indigenous identity with a new generation of students.
Anticipated timeline for the new school:
- Summer 2021: Demolition of existing building and site preparation
- Spring 2022: Completion of detailed design
- Summer 2022: Issue for tender, contractors' bidding
- Fall 2022: Start of construction
- Fall 2024: Projected opening of new school