This is the third in a series on non-traditional school choices in the Alberni Valley.
Port Alberni’s École des Grands-Cèdres is a Francophone school, independent of School District 70 but part of a separate Francophone school district, No. 93.
The basic difference between a Francophone school and a French Immersion program is that everything from École des Grands-Cèdres’ website to how they answer telephone calls are all in French.
In French Immersion, there is more English spoken.
Only children with at least one Francophone parent were allowed to attend this French only school in the past, but changes in effect next September will slightly open the doors of this small, 16-student school that teaches Kindergarten to Grade 4 in two classrooms.
“Now with the new policy, parents who have been in French Immersion and can speak French, now they are going to be allowed to bring their children here,” said principal Annie Bedard.
“We believe we will have a few more students at least with this new policy in place.”
“Everything is in French, except the English class,” Bedard said, smiling.
Grands-Cèdres is unique compared to other Port Alberni public schools. First, the school falls under the provincial umbrella of all Francophone schools in the province, which is School District 93 and is part of Le Conseil scolaire francophone de la Colombie-Britannique. Francophone education is guaranteed under the Charter of Rights, giving children the right to be educated in either of Canada’s two official languages.
As such, there is special funding available to the school which allows the school to operate.
Being one of 38 schools in this province-wide school district means it didn’t experience the same level of budget cuts as the local Alberni School District 70 did, due to dropping enrolment.
“We will not be cutting bus service, that is for sure,” Bedard said, explaining that many of her 16 students are bused to school.
“All of our Francophone students come all-around.”
The French program has been provided in Port Alberni since 1979 but it was in 1999 when Grands-Cèdres was created with an opening enrolment of 17 students.
The school is located in a portable next to Alberni Elementary school, which provides a French immersion program, and they share a common playground and field.
The Francophone school has two teachers, two teacher aides and shares the principal with the Francophone school in Nanaimo. Grands-Cèdres offered a Grade 5 and 6 class in the past, but now when students finish Grade 4, most end up going into one of the French immersion schools in the Alberni school district.
Even though Grands-Cèdres is a small school, Bedard said.
Students are afforded the same opportunities as any elementary school.
“We don’t feel disadvantaged,” Bedard said. “We go on field trips, we have special guests and presentations and we bus the children to Nanaimo if there is a show at the Francophone school there. We also participate in some things with the elementary school next door.”