Francophone School Board hopes to use Olympics to raise its profile. 

The new superintendent of the Francophone School Board is hoping to use the 2010 Winter Olympics to raise the profile of French language and culture across the province.

"The first language of the Olympics is French," said Dr. Jean Watters, who was in the Sea to Sky corridor this week as part of a whirlwind tour of all 37 Francophone schools in the province.

"I think with the Olympics coming you will see a new interest in French."

Watters said discussions are underway to determine what the best way is for the Francophone community to get involved with the Olympics, but it could include school kids volunteering in activities and celebrations.

Enrolment in Francophone schools has been steadily rising, with student numbers up 12 per cent this year. Very few are from Quebec. Indeed most come from countries in Africa, Asia and elsewhere. There are now about 3,500 students across the province enrolled in Francophone schools. Approximately 270,000 people speak French in B.C., out of a population of almost 4 million.

Watters, who was appointed superintendent of the Francophone School Board last August, hopes his visits around the province will help raise the profile of Francophone schools and communities. He is not alone. Kim Davis, chair of the Parent Advisory Council at L'École La Passerelle also hopes to get the word out.

"We are the best kept secret in town," she said. "If you don’t have a reason to know then you probably don’t know. I am sure there are people out there who don’t know about us who are arriving in Whistler. Or maybe their kids are still young, and that is when the Francophone Association can help."

The Francophone School Board faces some unique challenges said Watters. With students and teachers spread out across the province running the school board is more expensive than funding an Anglophone school board. For that reason he is asking the provincial government to appoint a task force to draw up a comparison. He hopes the results will lead to more funding for the school board.

The Francophone School Board gets the same provincial funding per student, about $5,500, as Anglophone school boards. They do receive some funding from the federal government but it must be used for activities outside of school which help promote Francophone culture.

The board is also working to address how to keep students who complete elementary in Francophone schools in Francophone high schools.

"It is one of the main challenges facing us right now," said the chair of the Francophone school Board Renee Popov. "We would like to become the most innovative school board in B.C.," she said.


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