While the province is seeing an increase in the number of students enrolling in French immersion classes, the Okanagan Skaha School District seems to be maintaining the course just below the provincial average.
The report, commissioned by the Canadian Parents for French, B.C. and Yukon, stated that province-wide enrolment has been increasing for 21 consecutive years, while in the Okanagan Skaha School District it fell for the second straight year. In the 2018-19 school year, 53,995 students, or 9.49 per cent of the student body, were enrolled in French immersion across B.C., and 650 students, or 11.11 per cent of the student body in the school district, were registered in the program.
“Our enrolment has been pretty steady actually since the launch of the program in our district (our numbers) are pretty flat,” said Shelley Clarke, SD67 board chair. “We’re not really going down at all. I looked at our numbers and we had a big spike basically at the time we added French immersion in Summerland, and now it’s pretty much stayed flat across. We had one other big spike three or four years ago when we had a large Grade 5 class and added an extra class in.”
Clarke said the numbers may not be increasing significantly since the French immersion program is not the only enhanced education option available to students in the district. She noted that the Skaha Lake Middle School now offers a hockey program and Princess Maggie just announced it is offering an International Baccalaureate middle years program.
Steven Devito, principal at KVR Middle School, which offers a late-start French immersion program, said the school has a waitlist of students for the program. He said he couldn’t speak to why the district’s numbers are lower than the provincial average but did note they see many students exit the program once they get older.
“For the past several years, we’ve had full classes in Grade 6 when students start, so they’re signing up. But it could be that we are losing a lot of students through attrition, especially from the transition from middle school to high school,” said Devito. “Every case is unique and it’s dependent on the student and family and lots of different things.”
Devito said he tells parents considering the program that “learning a second language is a wonderful thing and it provides students with all sorts of opportunities,” but the trade-off is it may require increased effort in their learning since they are still required to complete the regular curriculum on top of their French language studies.
Clarke agrees that deciding if the French immersion program is the right choice depends entirely on the student and their circumstances. She said she had one child opt-in to participate while the other did not, and these decisions seemed to be the right choice for both kids.
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