French immersion being considered at Spring Creek 

Parents invited to attend meeting, discuss program

Anyone interested in enrolling their kids in a French immersion program in Whistler is being invited to participate in a meeting next week, which will look at the pros and cons of the idea.

Hosted by the Howe Sound School Board the meeting will be held Dec. 2 at 7 p.m. at Spring Creek Community School.

Parents in Whistler have been interested in immersion for many years but the push to get something in place may be reaching critical mass. If there is enough interest in it the school board will put a pilot project in place for the 2005/06 school year.

Th current proposal calls for the immersion to be held at Spring Creek school, as it has classroom space. There would be no bussing for the program and it will be open to all Whistler students whether they live in the Spring Creek catchment area or not. It has not yet been determined how students would gain entry into the program as early indicators suggest there may be more parents interested in the program than spaces.

There are two types of immersion being looked at: late immersion, which starts in Grade 5 or 6, and early immersion, which starts in Kindergarten or Grade 1.

To make a go of late immersion it’s likely that at least 30 students would be needed and parents would have to be committed to keeping their kids in the program. The kids would move as a cohort through Grade 5, 6 and 7. There is no immersion at Whistler Secondary. If there were not enough kids to go into the program in Grade 5 in the second or third year then that year could be skipped until interest peaked again.

Late immersion is currently offered at Mamquam Elementary. The advantage to offering this program, said Howe Sound school superintendent Dr. Rick Erickson, is that it is easier to sustain.

"We are looking at both, but our experience here is with late and our concern is sustainability," he said.

With early immersion there have to be enough students to carry the program from Kindergarten through to Grade 7.

Another challenge, said Erickson, is kids who opt out of immersion and go back into the regular school program find themselves in a different place educationally. But with Grade 5 entry into immersion English reading skills have already been accomplished for the most part.

Erickson is encouraging anyone interested in the program to attend the meeting.

"We want the community of Whistler to attend," he said. "Not just parents but also those who don’t have kids yet as they may impact the program as well."

The principals of both Myrtle Philip and Spring Creek will also attend the meeting, as immersion will impact both schools.

"I am considering what this will mean for our school here," Myrtle Philip Principal Ron Albertin told the school’s Parent Advisory Council meeting last week when the issue was raised for discussion.

Parent Sharon Fugman, a member of the school board committee on immersion, would like to see as many people as possible at the meeting. "People have an idea of what French immersion means but I don’t know that they understand how it works or what a day in the life of a French immersion classroom looks like," she said. "I think even if you are not interested in French immersion for your own children (you should attend) as it will impact all schools because it’s likely it will mean splitting grades.

"And I think people should know what they are not putting children into."

Fugman, whose son attends the Francophone school L'École La Passerelle, also wants it to be clear that French immersion will not compete with the Francophone school.

"If anything there are synergies to be had," she said, adding that most of the people she has spoken to about the introduction of an immersion program are in favour of it.

All parents with kids in preschool and school programs will get a survey sent home with them Nov. 29 to gauge the level of interest in French immersion in Whistler. It must be returned by Monday, Dec. 6. The school board would prefer it if parents can hold off filling in the survey until after they have attended the meeting so they have all the information they need to make an informed choice.

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