Future bright for official language

French Immersion students in Parksville Qualicum Beach are taught entirely in French until Grade 4

CPF Oceanside president Greer Cummings serving up treats at L’Esprit de Noel last year.

CPF Oceanside president Greer Cummings serving up treats at L’Esprit de Noel last year.

French Immersion programs are growing in popularity across the country according to Statistics Canada and local enthusiasm in the program shows a similar trend.

“Anecdotally, I feel like there is an increasing demand at earlier levels so we have been exploring that with the district for the past couple of years,” said the president of Canadian Parents for French’s local chapter, Greer Cummings.

Canadian Parents for French is the largest French second-language advocacy group in Canada and The B.C. and Yukon branch is the strongest in the country, with the most membership per capita than other branches. It was founded in 1977 by parents who wanted to ensure their children would have the opportunity to become bilingual in the Canadian school system and now has 11 branches and 170 chapters in communities around the nation.

The Oceanside Chapter has about 40 members and endeavours to offer support and resources to families who choose the French immersion program and also offer events to help immerse them in the social and cultural aspects of the language. Cummings says the group works with School District 69 and local programming co-ordinators to ensure the program is an enriching experience, it offers scholarships to high school students who have completed the program and members put on events around the community, like their French-themed Christmas celebrations. The group also offers conversation lessons for parents.

School District 69 offers French immersion from Kindergarten to Grade 12. Children are taught entirely in French up until Grade 4, when English instruction is introduced. About 80 per cent of a student’s class work is in French from Grades 4 through 10 and in Grades 11 and 12, 25 per cent of their classes must be in French. Studies show that children’s brains most easily learn a language at a young age and therefore the district’s goal with the program is to take advantage of the early learning opportunity, it states on the website.

French immersion programs are offered at Ecole Parksville Elementary School, Ecole Springwood Middle School and Ecole Ballenas Secondary School.

Although there is a good amount of interest in French immersion at the elementary school level locally, Cummings said it’s not as strong in the higher grades.

“What tends to happen is, over time, you have some people not necessarily stick with the program, so a major part of what the CPF is trying to  accomplish is an engagement of all of those cohorts once again.”

One way they are doing that is introducing a French Film Night at Ballenas this year with pizza for French Immersion students and their families, and those interested in the program. On March 14, CPF presenting, with The National Film Board of Canada, Rendez-vous de la Francophonie.

Transportation is a struggle as it is for all students in the district, Cummings said, but Oceanside CPF is in the process of working with its national organization, funded in part by the ministry of education and Heritage Canada, to try and get subsidies, she said.

The group would also like to introduce a late immersion program, which begins in Grade 4, in Qualicum Beach. This is offered in addition to early immersion and involves intensive instruction for two to three years followed by a program of less intensity.

Cummings said that although funding is always an issue, the local membership really comes together to help put on great events in the community. To become a CPF member people need to have a child in French immersion or have an interest in the program. Membership fees are $25 a year and 80 per cent of that goes back into the local chapter.

Cummings said she thinks it’s important that all Canadians understand their cultural heritage and the French immersion programs around the country enhance the opportunity to do that. She has lived the social benefit of having two languages, she said, and is committed to finding ways to ensure others reap the benefits of the program.

“I think it develops confidence and creates opportunities and opens doors that might not otherwise be open.”

For more information on the Oceanside CPF visit their Facebook page.

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