East Three Elementary School expects to welcome at least 38 junior kindergarten students when a fresh school year begins Tuesday.

That’s how many children had enrolled in the play-based program for four-year-olds as of Aug. 24, according to Chris Gilmour, superintendent of the Beaufort Delta Education Council, although those numbers could change once school is underway.

While kindergarten is already offered in Inuvik, this is the first year junior kindergarten has been added to the list of grade levels in town.

The GNWT has made it mandatory for schools across the territory to offer junior kindergarten, starting this year.

It is optional for parents to enroll their children.

“Because it’s a new year, it’s a bit of a guess as to what the numbers will be,” Gilmour said.

As with other grades, some parents may not register their children until the first day of school or later in the year, such as in the case of new families coming to town.

Lesa Semmler, chair of the Inuvik District Education Authority, said the school anticipated as many as 60 students could register for junior kindergarten this year, based on kindergarten enrollment.

There are plans for four half-day junior kindergarten classes at East Three, with a maximum 15 students in each.

Two teachers will split the workload, with each taking a morning and afternoon class.

Semmler said the morning classes have been filled already and some students are enrolled in the afternoon classes.

“If we have to make changes to how we are filling our classes, we will,” she said. “Like kids with higher needs, maybe those would be better to be in the afternoon classes because there’s less students.”

She added the district education authority chose half-day junior kindergarten classes in the hope it will mitigate impacts on other community programs.

At the Children First Centre, which offers programming for children as old as 12, those impacts are still unknown.

The centre’s executive director, Patricia Davison, said it has come up with creative programming to fit families’ needs this fall.

While students may be in school for part of the day, many parents work until 5 p.m., she said.

“Children can be dropped off here and then our staff will walk the children over to school at the appropriate time,” she explained. “Then they will go and pick them up … and they will spend the rest of the day with us until their parents are ready to pick them up.”

According to Gilmour, all supplies needed for the new play-based grade have been ordered and installed.

The only thing missing is a bathroom that was expected to be installed at East Three for the new junior kindergarten students.

“The plumbing wouldn’t have been able to be done because of the way the school was built and it was going to be an excessive amount of money,” Semmler said. “We will have a classroom that won’t have a bathroom, but the bathrooms are right across the hall.”

She said because East Three is so new, the bathrooms were built at a smaller scale on the elementary side and smaller students will be able to use them.

“There are some good things and there are still some struggles that we’ll have to work through,” Semmler said. “But we have to move forward as we’ve been mandated … so we’re just trying to make sure that everything that we need is sufficient for those students coming in this year.”