Back to School: St. Aidan’s Downtown

The happy laughter of children is a common sound to come ringing through the halls of Calvary Temple on a Sunday, but to hear it on a Monday morning feels a bit unusual. St. Aidan’s Christian School opened its second campus at the downtown, Winnipeg, church three years ago with only a handful of students. Today, they fill the classrooms and spill out into the hallway, with upwards of 90 students expected for classes.
Corrine Plett assists a St. Aidan's student with his schoolwork. Photo: St. Aidan's Christian School.
Corrine Plett assists a St. Aidan’s student with his schoolwork. Photo: St. Aidan’s Christian School.

But being based in a church isn’t the most unique thing about this school. It only takes a minute to notice that classroom after make- shift classroom if filled with eager young newcomers to Canada. Nearly all of these children have arrived from war-torn parts of the world, primarily Africa, many hav- ing lost years of education to refugee camps. Some are working hard to learn English for the first time.
A small girl runs in late and Francine Wiebe, St. Aidan’s Vice Principal, smiles and calls her by name. It is clear that the children have found a home here. Unlike the School’s first campus, which only runs classes for grades six to ten, the stu- dents here range in age from four to 21. Because they are all at unique places in their education, teachers have to be patient and flexible as they cater their classes to meet each student’s needs.
Like any flourishing community, St. Aidan’s newest campus began with a dream. Francine was working as an EAL instructor when the funding was cut for some of the children in her care. She realized that not only would those six students drop out of school, but they were particularly at risk for being recruited into gangs. One boy had his first gang tattoo at just 11 years old. Desperate to find a way to keep them in school, she taught the children out of her living room for a year before beginning a partnership with St. Aidan’s School in North Winnipeg. The following year, the little group was invited to move their classes into Calvary Temple.
Children from St. Aidan's join kids from st. benedict's table for the drive to a summer day camp outside the city in August.
Children from St. Aidan’s join kids from st. benedict’s table for the drive to a summer day camp outside the city in August.

For two years, Francine wasn’t paid for her teaching. Her work was fuelled by her love for children, education, and the hope that through St. Aidan’s, her students could have the second chance their parents dreamed of for them. The teachers now working alongside her are equally passionate about their work, accepting just 70% of a normal teacher’s salary and longer hours in exchange for small classes and a family-like community.
The birth of the new campus is brimming over with stories of God’s provision and human compassion. Francine tells of the day a Hutterite woman came to her living room window as she was teaching in her converted storefront home, looking for a thrift store. Instead, the woman found six children gathered around their beloved teacher, each learning at a different level and in a way which fit their needs and gifts.
The woman, Francine explains, began to cry. Her community had been praying for just such an opportunity to support new refugees in the city, and God had answered their prayer. That chance encounter was the beginning of an indispensable rela- tionship between the school and seven different Hutterite colonies.
As the little community grew, so too did its needs. Francine has always been committed to feeding the children in her care, so churches and other communities had to be found to make lunches and drop them off. Often, when it felt like there wasn’t going to be enough, the Hutterites would show up with food and supplies, reminiscent of the miraculous provision for George Muller’s English orphanages. One year, a colony worked together to make a quilt for every child in the school.
Today, Francine de- scribes the need for people to fill in the gaps in little ways: volunteers to spend three hours picking up lunch and helping with cleanup, grandparents to come in and read to the kids, tutors to help in particular subject areas. Because the children are far away from their larger families and tradition- al communities, they often lack the gentle care of older adults.
Would you or a group from your church be interested in becoming a small part of these children’s education? You can be in touch with Francine Weibe at [email protected].

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