Uncertainty about the direction of French Immersion programs in the Cowichan School District may “porte ouverte” in Chemainus.
With the program booming in Duncan and Cobble Hill, existing resources struggling to meet demand, and opportunities for late entry limited, assistant superintendent Sheryl Koers raised the idea of a a late immersion program at Chemainus.
Koers said the majority of school districts have both early and late French immersion. The Cowichan School District has no late immersion program and attrition in numbers from the early program are hurting the district’s ability to offer courses at the high school level.
“If attrition is the challenge, then late immersion is the better answer. It could start in September. That would help solve the attrition problem in two years,” superintendent Joe Rhodes said.
Later immersion has a greater retention rate, he said, because it’s a student’s own choice, rather than something driven by parents’ wishes. Students are also building on a greater knowledge of how to use language by that age, he said, sharing with trustees that the late cohort would go into immersion classes in Grades 6 and 7.
“By Grade 8 they’ve basically caught the early immersion kids.”
The board of education was being asked to consider limiting early immersion registration numbers in order to create space for late registration. Trustee Rob Hutchins was unconvinced about the need to cut kindergarten registrations.
“Why can’t we have both? We could have late immersion at Chemainus Elementary. There are empty classrooms there.”
“Absolutely you could. But it would come at a cost.”
That didn’t deter Hutchins, though.
“I’d like to have more information on the amount of interest in late immersion out there in the general public,” he said.
He called for a report for the next meeting showing the amount of interest in this year’s Grade 5 students for an opening for French immersion in Grade 6 next year. The rest of the board agreed, referring the entire subject to the next session.
“There are a lot of people out there who want French immersion. If you build it, they will come,” Koers said.