Local school trustees are facing tough budgets and tougher decisions, as they try to provide the best possible programs and facilities to support our children’s education.
There is one fabulous program that has not been on the chopping block because it actually comes with its own federal funding, a program so much in demand that neighbouring communities inevitably have waitlists, and heart-break when students are turned away. This program provides graduates with a “double Dogwood,” a strong endorsement for future opportunities in government or tourism or international communications.
Yet almost no children from the south end of the school district participate. Why does this program seem to be “off the radar” for families from Fruitvale to Rossland?
Elective “Late French Immersion” (LFI) begins in Grade 6. How does LFI work? Students begin Grade 6 with zero conversational French, and by Grade 12 they are as fluent as students who began immersion back in kindergarten.
Does it sound like hard work? Maybe, but everyone starts as a beginner, and learns in a way that is fun and interactive. Do parents have to speak French? No, communication with the school is in English. Is it just for the smart kids? No, LFI could suit any student willing to make the effort to keep up – it just gets harder to catch up if you fall behind. Does it cost more? No, it’s public education for local kids who would be educated by SD20 anyway, plus there are federal incentives to support LFI, which actually bring dollars into our cash-strapped district.
Unknown to many there is also this second option, LFI, right here in the Kootenay Columbia School District. All local Grade 5 students bring home a notice, inviting them to apply for LFI. But if the students have never heard about it, or the parents never considered it, is there any surprise that south-end students don’t apply to this free, public school program?
Last year, there was one student from Trail admitted; this year, again only one (who later withdrew, hmm). Yet both Castlegar and Nelson have LFI waitlists up to 50 per cent of class capacity, and tears and tantrums when hopefuls are turned away. (The kids are disappointed, too.)
So why don’t students from the south end of the district go? Ah, here’s the snag: It’s in Castlegar.
Some say that south-end students don’t go because parents “aren’t interested.” Is this true, really? Or could it be that 1) parents don’t know enough about it, and 2) the distance and details make it too difficult?
Transportation is not impossible but it is inconvenient. And the peer group shift is huge: applying to LFI means leaving classmates behind, requiring a leap of faith that new friendships will be made. These reasons aren’t insurmountable, but may be enough to turn parents and students away.
Or, another thought. LFI starts at Grade 6: these students are 10 or 11 years old. Two years ago there was a resounding community voice announcing no to sending our elementary children to distant schools: “Keep them close to home,” we said. When south-end students are passing up the chance of a lifetime with LFI, perhaps this is one significant insight toward understanding why.