Stephanie Melnyk (left) and Vanessa Morrow

Community comment: The time has come for French Immersion in Revelstoke!

It’s a hot topic in the current school board trustee elections: why does Revelstoke not currently offer an Early French Immersion program?

By Stephanie Melnyk and Vanessa Morrow

It’s a hot topic in the current school board trustee elections: why does Revelstoke not currently offer an Early French Immersion (FI) program? FI is delivered through the public school system for families who are interested in having their children become bilingual. It is designed for students with English-speaking families and students are taught the same curriculum as the English program.

Previous attempts to establish an FI program have been unsuccessful primarily due to the lack of numbers. For a decade, kindergarten registration numbers were in decline. Now the trend has reversed. In a study produced three years ago, it was projected that 68 students would be entering kindergarten in the year 2010, and for each year thereafter until 2015. Current kindergarten enrolment has been around 80 children for the past two years and local birth rates indicate they will rise into the ‘90s by 2015. This is a whole kindergarten class more than projected! Revelstoke enrolment can finally sustain a French Immersion program.

Already, families of over 125 students have expressed interest in a FI program through a word-of-mouth campaign. Many School Boards in Canada survey the community themselves to determine interest levels when establishing a new French Immersion program. Considering the workload on our school board – especially with the construction of two new schools – we should work together to canvas Revelstoke families who aren’t yet aware of this initiative.

One argument against the program is lack of funding. It is important to note that school boards offering French Immersion qualify for additional funding through provincial grants offered under the Official Languages in Education Protocol. This is to ensure it is not a financial burden on the district.

A second argument against FI is the perceived “streaming” effect since special needs students are less likely to enrol in the program for fear of producing an additional barrier to learning. This perception stems from a lack of understanding about special needs. Recent reports have shown most children with learning challenges actually benefit from the FI program if they are provided with the same level of learning assistance they would receive in the English program. It is important to consider that, contrary to popular belief, special-needs students are not differentially handicapped in immersion programs and in fact they perform on par with special-needs students in the English program. Our school district has the reputation of being an advocate for at-risk children and a great supporter of early childhood education. Revelstoke has an opportunity to establish an inclusive FI program that is suited to the widest range of student abilities.

In 2008, Canadian Parents for French (CPF) confirmed that 30 communities with populations under 10,000 successfully implemented the Early French Immersion program in British Columbia. With the support of the community and the school district this program can be both a sustainable and enriching program for  the students and residents of Revelstoke.

As graduates of this program, we both feel that it would be a shame to deny the students of Revelstoke a lifetime of opportunities that a French Immersion program can provide.

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Community Content guest columnists Vanessa Morrow and Stephanie Melnyk are working to organize parents interested in a French Immersion program for Revelstoke next year. They can be contacted through french_immersion@mail.com.