The gym at Alberni Elementary School was full of enthusiastic French Immersion students clapping and dancing along to the French-speaking band, Réveillons, during a celebration for the Quebec Winter “Carnaval” last week.
The up-beat atmosphere and engagement from the students could be construed as signs that the French Immersion program at School District 70 is going strong.
French Immersion offers an opportunity for students to become bilingual and receive a double-Dogwood Graduation Certificate at the end of Grade 12.
Early French Immersion in the Alberni Valley begins for students in kindergarten and goes to Grade 7 at École Alberni Elementary, and then Grades 8–12 at Alberni District Secondary School. Late Immersion students begin in Grade 6 and 7 at École Alberni Elementary and go on to Grade 8 at ADSS and join early French Immersion students in Grade 9.
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There is not a single other comparable and comprehensive school second- language program in this country,” said Marc Fryer, vice principal at École Alberni Elementary and district coordinator for French-language programs.
“This is an opportunity to thoroughly learn a second language while at school.”
Fryer said most other Vancouver Island districts have lotteries and waitlists for new French Immersion registrations and not everyone is accepted.
However, in SD70, we have been able to offer unfettered access to both early and late French Immersion,” Fryer said. “Both programs are viable options for families looking for second language acquisition for their children.”
According to an SD70 newsletter, late French Immersion is designed for students whose first language is not French. All subjects are taught in French and students meet the same learning outcomes as they would in an English-speaking class.
Students who make good candidates for late French Immersion are motivated, proficient in numeracy and literacy in their Grade 5 class, willing to take risks and have a sincere desire to learn another language.
Registrations for the September 2016 school year are being accepted for late and early French Immersion until March 18.
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Jean Contant teaches French Immersion at Alberni District Secondary School for Grades 9–12. He said the program began close to 35 years ago because a group of parents in the Alberni Valley wanted to see French being taught in SD70 schools.
“Next year will be the 25th group of graduates who get a bilingual diploma,” Contant said. “Next year is a big year for us and we should have our largest graduated class of bilingual grads, about 25 kids.”
Contant said there are many reasons why kids join French Immersion and that over the years enrolment numbers fluctuate but have been more steady since late Immersion was added six years ago.
“With late Immersion kids who are doing well in school, parents want to offer another opportunity, a challenge, so learning a second language at that point is worth it for them,” he said.
Contant said he hasn’t noticed any loss of skills from French Immersion students once they reach high school, when French-language classes go from full-time to about half-time, and that having a second language is beneficial for student career opportunities.
“It always adds another layer for [students’] applications when they say they’re bilingual,” Contant said. “We have some kids who have applied for some government jobs with the RCMP…even though it’s not a requirement to get in, it helps their application.”
Contant said approximately half a dozen teachers in Port Alberni, who are graduates of the French Immersion program, are now teaching French Immersion in the Valley. He said some graduates have gone on to teach French Immersion in other places in B.C. and even Quebec.
For more information on French Immersion registrations visit sd70.bc.ca or register at École Alberni Elementary.