French Immersion enrolment up across B.C.

“What we’re seeing is a movement towards our program and a recognition by parents that there are some strong second language opportunities from within the public school system,” said Glyn Lewis, interim executive director for the lobby group Canadian Parents for French.

Across B.C., the popularity of French immersion is growing. In Victoria, it’s huge.

Enrolment has been increasing steadily province-wide for the last 12 years. In Greater Victoria, 15 per cent of all students are enrolled in the programs for 2010-11.

“What we’re seeing is a movement towards (French immersion programs) and a recognition by parents that there are some strong second language opportunities from within the public school system,” said Glyn Lewis, interim executive director for the lobby group Canadian Parents for French.

Nearly eight per cent of students in B.C. public schools are registered in French immersion, or 44,848 kids at last count.

“It’s an exciting time, but it also poses some challenges that we need to work through,” Lewis said.

Registration capping, educating parents and supporting students with learning disabilities are a part of the challenges, he said.

Kim Currie, president of the Saanich chapter of Canadian Parents for French is focusing on hosting events that build a community for French immersion families, and in turn, may help prevent attrition.

“We’re trying to build that support for kids who are considering potentially moving from the French Immersion program,” Currie said. “By bringing in these cultural events, we’re bringing the language to life.”

This includes setting up tutoring at the middle school level – a time when students often leave the program for English instruction. The switch between middle school and high school is another time of high attrition, said Judy Mas, coordinator for language programs and multiculturalism at the Greater Victoria school district. The number of students who leave French programs is difficult to track, however, given the amount of student movement between schools and the concurrent early and late immersion programs, Mas said.

Of the 3,140 students enrolled in the program in Greater Victoria for 2010-11, 128 students graduated from the program, compared to 61 of 2,741 in 2007-08.

“For me this is an option like any other option,” Mas said. “We don’t judge the success of our immersion program, by assessing to what degree folks are willing to commit spending K-12. Any foundation of bilingualism that is enduring and that will stay with them through adulthood (is a success).”

Lewis added that language is not the issue when it comes to learning other topics.

“If they’re having troubles in French, most, if not all of the time, they’re going to have similar challenges in the English program.”

Funding for the program is provided through the province based on enrolment numbers. Last year the Greater Victoria school district received $416,091 from the province to fund the program. Saanich received $163,936.

nnorth@saanichnews.com