About 15 parents came out to a special school board meeting on French Immersion in Revelstoke on Friday.
The meeting was arranged so Stephanie Melnyk and Vanessa Morrow could present their case for having French Immersion in Revelstoke to the Board of Education.
Fifteen parents and a number of children came to the meeting to listen, provide support and voice their opinions as well.
Melnyk and Morrow have been strong proponents of the program since the 2011 school board elections, where they succeeded in pushing the matter to the forefront of the campaign.
They started their presentation by relating their own experiences with French Immersion – Melnyk in Uxbridge, Ont. and Morrow in Thunder Bay, Ont. They both touted the benefits it provided them in life both personally and career-wise.
“In my working career, having bilingualism on top of the skill set that I had, gave me the pick of projects,” said Melnyk.
They pointed out that with the consolidation of Begbie View Elementary and with two schools having two kindergarten classes, it would be easier to start the program.
“That makes it easier because you don’t need to have a school that’s entirely French Immersion and would displace English students for that catchment area,” said Morrow.
However, the meat of the presentation was on the numbers – notably, they presented information that indicated more interest than was show to the trustees at their meeting in January.
They showed initial enrollment would be in the low- to mid-20s for the first three years and that projections based on expected future attrition and growth would remain sustainable throughout elementary school. It is only in high school where the numbers would drop below 20 students per class, but Morrow and Melnyk said cohorts could combine for French Immersion credit classes to make it more sustainable.
They also contrasted numbers with the 2008 study, when French Immersion was turned down by trustees.
“The last study was done during a period of low births and low enrollment,” said Morrow. “Now we’re in a period of increasing births and enrollment, so that’s positive.”
For trustees, the question was not about the quality of the program, but the sustainability of the program.
“One of the things that’s been made very clear for us is if we’re going to start up French Immersion, we’re going into it with the full understanding we’re making a 12-year commitment,” said Alan Chell, the chair of the Revelstoke school board.
He said parents would have to complete the survey that was circulated in November and bring it into the school district office. “We have to have that firm commitment that we are going to make this successful.”
District superintendent Mike Hooker said he needed to hear from parents directly to get a proper idea of numbers.
“Our numbers don’t match yet because people haven’t brought any more surveys to the district office,” he said. “We really need to hear directly from people. Its not good enough for them to tell you they’re interested. They have to fill out a survey and get on our database.”
A number of parents chimed in with their support for French Immersion. Kendra Von-Bremen said one big factor for a lot of parents was what school it was going to be offered at. If the school board gave a definitive answer on that, parents would be more likely to respond yes or no.
One father from Quebec said he saw the benefits of English Immersion there and that it could be beneficial even if it was just run through elementary school.
The board of education is planning on looking at the numbers again and voting on whether or not to start the program in the coming weeks.
“I think you’d be surprised at how strong the numbers actually are,” said Melnyk.