French immersion survives in the Stephenville Primary
Parents in the Stephenville area fought to save the French immersion program at their elementary school and won — for now.
But they say what they really want is a permanent solution to the program’s annual struggle to deliver.
French immersion has been part of the Stephenville school system for decades. However, when kindergarten numbers began to fall, the future of the program was in the stars.
In January, the school district sent parents a letter saying it didn’t need enough new kindergarten children for the program to be sustainable.
Parents and advocates rallied and new registrations for the program increased. The school district then informed them that the program would be held this year.
“I was so excited,” said Samantha Tiller, whose oldest child starts preschool in September. “I cried and was just super happy to hear that my daughter and all the other kids who signed up would get this opportunity in the fall.”
According to Tiller, the French immersion curriculum provides an incredible opportunity for students to enrich their learning and stay with them for life.
“Bilingualism is extremely important and offers young people incredible opportunities for their future and the things they can do in life,” said Tiller.
“It gives them a sense of pride. You come home. They are super excited to share what they have learned, a second language and just their future possibilities. It opens so many doors and that’s really important for the future. “
While Tiller’s eldest child will have the opportunity to enroll in French immersion, she’s unsure what her two younger children will be offered.
“I know they’ll be enrolled in French immersion as well,” Tiller said. “I don’t want to have to do that next year, or the year after that, or the year after that.”
Tiller knows that reaching the numbers needed to offer French immersion will be difficult in the years to come, so proponents of the program want factors other than student enrollment to be considered.
They are also calling on the school district to recognize the importance of culture in program decisions and to change its French immersion policy.
Wendy Brake, who has one child enrolled in French immersion at Stephenville Primary and a younger child who plans to enroll in the future, says the region’s rich French history makes it distinctive.
“Here in our region we have our very own cultural identity,” said Brake. “And in recent generations, we have lost a lot of culture, traditions, customs and language due to the school system.
“We want to reclaim that language, and in a time of truth or reconciliation, I think the school district could really be part of the solution by allowing our children and removing barriers for them to reclaim that language.”
Brake is also pushing for a policy change that would take culture into account when allocating French programs.
“Being able to communicate fluently in French our ancestors did, my grandparents did, and just teaching a core program where they learn the basics and end up not being able to communicate in French – they might understand a few characters – that is no investment in our youth.”
Daniel O’Brien, Assistant Program Director for the Newfoundland and Labrador English School District, is delighted at the interest in French immersion at Stephenville Primary.
“When we took the first snapshot of enrollments for Kindergarten and Stephenville Primary, we had 13 students who chose French immersion,” he said. “When I brought to the attention of the school community that we had concerns about the program, 18 had opted for French immersion. I think today it’s around 23.”
Student numbers will determine the allocation of resources needed to deliver the French immersion program. If the program can be offered with the teacher resources allotted, O’Brien says the district will do everything possible to offer it.
“Many of these decisions, rightly or wrongly, depend on assignments and whether or not we have a sufficient number of children in a given cohort to include an optional program,” he said.
Culture and heritage were not a factor in determining student resources, he said, but it may be something to consider for the entire student population.
“I think we always take into account or try to take into account as much as possible what the community is telling us,” he said. “We want to be a partner to the community. When a community highlights a special unique circumstance, we always listen.
“If this is an important piece of culture for the Stephenville Elementary School, then anything we do to improve the program because of this should benefit all children in the school, not just a select few who care about immersion in.” chose French.”
The school district is expected to meet with the school board Monday afternoon.
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