Parents want French Immersion in Whistler 

But program would have significant impact on both elementary schools

The majority of parents who filled out a survey on introducing elementary French Immersion to Whistler want the program.

"I was pleasantly surprised that overall there was a strong interest," said parent Sharon Fugman, who is on the district advisory committee on French Immersion.

"What I would take away from the survey results is that there is strong interest on the part of many families in French Immersion in Whistler and a large percentage from both schools showed interest."

Of the 201 surveys completed 123 said "yes" to the introduction of immersion and 77 said "no".

Of those who said yes, 54 families were from Myrtle Philip and 70 were from Spring Creek. On the no side 50 were from Myrtle Philip and 27 were from Spring Creek.

About 197 families at Myrtle Philip and Spring Creek did not complete the survey which asked: "would you enroll your child/ children in a French Immersion program?" and then asked for information about their children’s ages and schools.

Another 51 respondents, who have children who will not enter kindergarten until 2006, 2007, 2008, and 2009, also said "yes" to French Immersion.

Fugman is now hoping that the school board, which meets mid-January, will consider the survey and give the go ahead to look at registration numbers for both early and late immersion.

"That would be my Christmas wish," she said.

Late immersion starts in Grade 5 or 6 and early immersion starts in Kindergarten or Grade 1. There is no immersion at Whistler Secondary.

But there are many issues that need to be considered said school superintendent Dr. Rick Erickson, who is working with the advisory committee to draft a report for the board on the survey results and the options which might be pursued for a French program. Introducing early immersion will have a significant impact on both schools, he said.

"That might generate through to Grade 7 maybe 150 to 160 kids," said Erickson. "That would be out of a population of 500 elementary school students in Whistler, so that would impact significantly at Myrtle Philip and the second impact would be on the English program at Spring Creek."

He is also concerned that expected attrition from an early immersion program back into the English program would be difficult for the kids, as those in French immersion are at a different place academically.

"If a student wanted to switch from French immersion to English in Grade 2 or 3 then they would be behind a little in their English," said Erickson.

According to the survey there are not enough Grade 5 students to start immersion. But, said Erickson, one option which may be considered is going ahead with late immersion and subsidizing the program until the younger grades move up.

"The board could say… do we want to subsidize it for three years so that the school wouldn’t have to pay out of their teaching allotment," he said.

"However, you have to beware that if you do stuff like that then there are other programs that people might want subsidies for, and in theory that reduces resources available for the regular programs."

At a public meeting held earlier this month on Immersion some parents asked if French could be introduced earlier into the regular school program if its decided not to go ahead with Immersion.

Erickson said this is a possibility but it usually means the school has to drop another platooned subject such as music.

"….Do you want a music program or a French program," said Erickson. "It is easy to do one specialty K to 7, but you can’t do a second as easily."

To see the survey results and read some background go to www.sd48.bc.ca.

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