A new school in south Winnipeg for First Nations students was celebrated Thursday morning with a grand opening ceremony held at the $24 million campus.

The expanded campus at Southeast Collegiate can accommodate 156 students total in grades 10, 11 and 12 which is the same enrollment as the old school but students say the similarities stop there.

The new school includes ten classrooms, a resource room for students with special needs, a classroom for power mechanics, a gymnasium and student residence.

Grade 12 student Richelle Mckay of Gods River, Man. feels fortunate to be among the first group of students to live and study in the expanded campus.

“It’s a better living condition,” said Mckay. “When it would rain or get cold the ceilings would drip and the whole lodge would be freezing. So now we have better heating and better beds.”

“It’s nice.”

The school has been in existence since 1996. Since then, the school has offered students academic classes as well as trades while supporting social and cultural needs with Indigenous languages, cultural programming and land-based education.

Some students don’t have the option of finishing grade 12 in remote and northern First Nations. This school is helping Indigenous youth complete their high school education.

515 students have graduated from Southeast Collegiate since its inception.

The school boasts a retention rate of 97 per cent and a graduation rate of 92 per cent.

The federal government kicked in $10 million to the expansion and Indigenous Services Canada is providing $5.6 million annually to support instructional and accommodation costs.

“I’m thrilled to hear about the culturally-appropriate education that is happening,” said Indigenous Services Canada minister Jane Philpott. “Indigenous languages are being taught here.”

“This is the present and the future of Indigenous education in this country – to be entirely Indigenous-designed, lead, managed, directed – and the government of Canada is honoured to be a partner.”

Mckay said learning more about her culture at the school has been an important part of her education.

“I didn’t know anything about my culture,” said Mckay. “I learned about smudging, going to sweats. I learned a lot about myself.”

Principal Sheryl McCorrister said the new facility opens up the opportunity to increase the number of students who can attend classes.

“Students have school of choice but what I’m finding and hearing out there is that parents and guardians want to send their students here,” said McCorrister. “They want a safe place for them, they want a place where they can learn and develop and be supported.”

McCorrister said enrollment is full and there’s a waiting list at almost every grade level.

Students moved into the new school earlier this week, and classes begin Friday.

The old school which is located nearby is no longer in use and has been put up for sale.