The Canadian Parents for French recently circulated a press release celebrating recording- breaking French immersion enrollment in the Kootenay Columbia area, but Bill Ford, assistant superintendent for School District No. 20, says the press release isn’t really looking at the context behind the numbers.
“What they do is they just track pure numbers. They don’t know the districts story at all,” said Ford.
Though the district’s French immersion enrollment is up, it’s because the district has been significantly expanding its French immersion programs.
Historically the French immersion program in the district has been a late immersion program for grades six to twelve. That program began in Castlegar and was expanded to Rossland four years ago for kids in grades six to nine.
Since each Rossland class has approximately 30 students, that means that the program has expanded by 30 students each year over the past four years, as the first group of grade sixes moved onto grade seven and a new group started the program in grade six, etc. Now that the first group has reached grade nine, the program will no longer be growing by 30 students each year, and should level off.
“For a small district like us, that was a significant increase,” said Ford.
The district also just launched a two-year trial early immersion program in Castlegar this September with 22 kindergarden students, and will take on another 22 students next year.
“Next year the board will decide whether or not they’re going to support an early French immersion program full on,” said Ford. “So we’ll examine what have the learning outcomes been, how have the kids been handling the early program, is there still lots of interest in supporting the early program, and the board will decide whether or not the program is going to continue.”
If the early immersion program continues, then the late immersion program will be fazed out once this year’s kindergardeners reach grade six.
Asked whether or not the French immersion program has had any impact on the Russian program, Ford responded, “The board is proud that we offer three language programs in the north end of the district. It’s proud of the history … of the Russian bilingual program, and its proud of the excitement and enthusiasm around its new early French immersion program.”
“These two programs don’t compete,” Ford continued. “The board is equally supportive of both programs and continues to work at ensuring that those programs will continue to operate.”