French Immersion enrolment in School District 20 continues to increase as the program expands.
Enrolment in French Immersion increased to 265 students in the 2015-16 school year, up 25 per cent from 2014-15, and has increased 89 per cent since 2005-06 when 140 students were enrolled. The increase can be attributed in part to the district’s expansion of the program, introducing a late immersion program to Rossland in 2013-14, and a pilot early immersion program to Castlegar last year.
Rossland Summit School (RSS) started a Grade 6 and 7 French Immersion split class in 2013-14, and since then new students have enrolled in Grade 6 each year, so that every year enrolment increases by a full class of 30. Now that the Grade 7 students from the initial intake have reached Grade 10, the district is making plans to hire a French Immersion teacher for J.L. Crowe Secondary School as well.
“The Grade 10s this year are going to get their French this year at RSS … and then in second semester they’ll go down to Crowe for the English component of their Grade 10 year, and then next year, when the current Grade 9s at RSS move down to Crowe, there will a French Immersion teacher,” explained Bill Ford, superintendent for SD 20. “So that teacher will take care of the requirements that they need for Grade 10 and the requirements that the Grade 11s need for Grade 11.”
But hiring a new French Immersion teacher may be more easily said than done. The statistics showing increased French Immersion enrolment were circulated in a press release by Canadian Parents for French BC & Yukon, and the release also mentioned that increased enrolment is “creating a shortage of qualified French language teachers.” Asked if he was concerned about being able to hire a French teacher for Crowe next year, Ford said, “We’ve heard horror stories from some districts just scrambling to find a teacher for a French Immersion program, but so far, so good — and I don’t want to jinx it — but when we’ve put our postings out, we’ve been able to find excellent, quality teachers for French Immersion.”
It’s not just the 30 new students each year at RSS who are bulking up enrolment numbers. As of last year, 22 new students have been joining the program each year in Castlegar.
Castlegar has long had a late French Immersion program for Grades 6-12, but it was only last year that the district introduced an early Immersion program with a kindergarten class at Twin Rivers Castlegar Primary Campus.
“Because Castlegar has a long-standing relationship with French Immersion programming, it was decided to try it out there,” said Ford. “Parents there were asking for an early French Immersion program.”
The district doesn’t plan to run both an early and late program in Castlegar for long. If the pilot results in the board approving an early French Immersion program, then eventually it will phase out the late Immersion program, once last year’s kindergarten class begins Grade 6.
Demand is also an important contributor to increasing enrolment numbers. With 30 new spots in Rossland for the next two years and potentially 22 new spots in Castlegar for the next four, enrolment should continue to increase, but only if there are students to fill the spots.
But according to the numbers, the demand appears to be there. Of the students enrolled in SD 20 last year, 7.25 per cent were French Immersion students, up from 5.79 per cent the year before. In BC, 9.5 per cent of the 553,378 students enrolled last year were enrolled in French Immersion.
Ford pointed out that French Immersion isn’t the only language program in the district either.
“I know that the board is quite proud of the language programs — plural — that we offer in our school district, because beyond French Immersion, we also offer Russian — so we have a Russian bilingual program, we have a Russian as a second language program — and we also offer Spanish at J.L. Crowe and that’s a fully subscribed program,” said Ford, adding that the number of students engaged in language learning in the district is “very high.”