Whistler schools to get French immersion in Grade 5 

After a lengthy discussion the Howe Sound School Board has decided to introduce French immersion to Whistler schools in Grade 5.

But several parents at a public meeting on the topic this week were outraged to learn that the board had decided to go with the late immersion option rather than the more popular choice of introducing French in Kindergarten and Grade 1.

"Did we just witness the kybosh of early immersion?" asked parent Lily Antunes of the school board. "I am quite annoyed that it doesn’t seem we have been given the full choice here. I don’t feel we have been well represented."

The board was given several options by the district committee on immersion but chose to consider only one of them, late immersion.

"I’m tearing out my hair in frustration," said Agnes Finan who scolded the board for taking parents through a long process looking at the feasibility of several immersion alternatives and then choosing to ignore the option a recent survey showed most parents wanted, early immersion.

The November survey found that the parents of 27 students were interested in immersion in Kindergarten and Grade 1. The parents of another 15 students were interested at both the Grade 5 and 6 level, making a split class a possibility.

Despite the lower numbers the board has decided to go with late immersion.

"All the options were considered," said school board superintendent Dr. Rick Erickson, adding that the members studied a report produced by the committee on immersion, and then asked for this recommendation.

"My recommendation was for late immersion and that was because firstly it provided support for a program of choice that the community has wanted for at least 10 years, and secondly to provide a program that in its initial stage would not overly impact on both schools."

Erickson’s concern was that there was the potential for early immersion to draw 40 per cent of the 500 or so elementary students into the program.

"Should that happen it may very well cause us problems with capacity (at Spring Creek) which then would put us in an interesting situation of having to say, ‘OK, we need more kids at Myrtle Philip’. So the compromise was then to have the least disruption for K to Grade 4, and say let’s get the program rolling… and off we go successfully."

Spring Creek principal Linda Watson was also disappointed by the board’s decision.

"I was really quite surprised that early (immersion) wasn’t looked at in a little more detail and a little more depth," she told the board. "At least it is a small step and perhaps we can build upon this small step."

Board member Andree Janyk pointed out that many parents had e-mailed her about immersion and voiced concerns about how it would impact the English school program.

"I respect your passion," she told the audience. "But there is also a strong cohort out there who have a real concern about French coming into the school and we have to respect their concerns too."

Board member Judy Bourhis voted against the introduction of immersion arguing that the fledgling school (Spring Creek) should concentrate on the educational programs already in place.

The school board will be starting the registration process for those interested in the late immersion program immediately. Parents should visit the district website at www.sd48.bc.ca for more details and keep in contact with their school for registration information.

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