SD68 asked to consider 8-12 French Immersion

Ecole North Oyster parents cite benefits for students and LSS

Plus s’il vous plaît.

Nobody’s saying a full 8-12 French Immersion program at Ladysmith Secondary School is feasible, but a presentation from the Ecole North Oyster community has given trustees and staff at Nanaimo-Ladysmith School District pause for thought.

In fact, SD68 hasn’t even decided if a Grade 8-9 FI program at LSS will fly. The district surveyed students and parents in December to determine the level of support for a program, and staff will be presenting a recommendation to the Board by late February or early March, Superintendent John Blain told SD68’s Education Committee Wednesday, Jan. 6.

But representatives of Ecole North Oyster urged the district not to rule out a full program, which they argued will: solidify enrolments at Ecole North Oyster; help LSS draw more students, and recover from an anticipated decline in enrolment when Cedar Secondary School reopens in the fall; and make it easier for students in the southern end of the district to access an increasingly popular and beneficial program.

“When there’s a secondary program, you will get more kids enrolling at the elementary level,” parent Cheryl Onciul told the committee.

A presentation prepared by her, another parent Carrie Segreto, and by Ecole North Oyster teacher Belinda Harrison projected ‘potential’ enrolment of 75 students by 2020.

If a full program isn’t offered, they said, it will be more difficult to draw students into the Ecole North Oyster-Ladysmith Secondary French Immersion stream, and retain students who do enrol. Even at the kindergarten level parents are looking down the road to see if it goes all the way to graduation and a ‘double dogwood’

By Grade 8 the choice becomes even more stark. “There’s little incentive for Grade 8 students to go to LSS then switch to NDSS (Nanaimo District Secondary School),” Onciul said. Some would opt to send their children straight into French Immersion at NDSS; others to drop out of the FI program altogether.

Segreto pointed out that French Immersion continues to grow in popularity. “It’s the way of filling our schools; offering French Immersion programs wherever we can,” she said.

Her comments echo information from a recently released Insights West poll commissioned by the Canadian Parents for French and La Fédération des francophones de la Colombie-Britannique. “French is a huge hit in Canada’s most western province, the advocacy groups said.

Their poll showed that 70 per cent of British Columbians support Canada’s two official languages; and 66 percent believe French is an integral part of the Canadian identity. It also showed British Columbians “see big benefits in multilingualism,” with 93 per cent saying they believe it is an important skill to have, and 75 per cent agreeing that speaking French opens “social, career, and cultural opportunities.”

Blain, who has said in the past that an 8-12 French Immersion program at LSS is ‘unlikely’, seemed to open the door a crack. “If there were a need and the ability to look at a senior program, we will take a look at that when it comes up,” he said.

In a followup interview next day Education Committee Chair Stephanie Higginson said the Board will have to wait and see what’s in the staff report before making up their minds on how a French Immersion program at LSS will roll out, but she said the Ecole North Oyster presentation has added a perspective to the discussion.

“I think that they presented some real strong information as to why it should be 8 to 12,” she said.