Enrolment is on the rise for French immersion programs at SD64, mimicking a province-wide trend.
Interest in the program has risen again this year, though the reasons for the increase are difficult to determine.
“Enrolment numbers change according to how many students are coming up from grade 5,” SD64 French Immersion curriculum coordinator Louise Doucet explained. “Typically and historically, French immersion usually attracts a third of the population coming into Salt Spring Middle School. This year there have been more. It is closer to 50 per cent.”
One hundred and seventy students are enrolled in immersion programs at the middle and high schools this year, which is up from last year’s 140 according to Canadian Parents for French (CPF). A letter sent to SIMS parents at the beginning of the year said that of the 13 homeroom classes at the middle school, five of them are French immersion. Last year across the district 7.9 per cent of all students were enrolled in French programs.
A CPF press release stated that there were 53,483 students in the province enrolled in French Immersion, or 9.5 per cent of students. Enrolment has been rising in B.C. over the last decade, leading to a shortage in teachers.
The release read that “districts around the province are scrambling to find enough qualified teachers and teaching assistants.”
While provincially it has been difficult to hire enough teachers to fill the demand for French programming, SD64 was able to hire three new teachers and add one new classroom at the middle school for 2018-19. (New teachers were hired to replace retiring teachers and to fill the additional classroom.)
“We had responses to our advertising, but like any other employer on Salt Spring the School District also faces the housing issue,” Doucet said. “Housing is hard to find and it’s expensive, even for teachers.”
The Ministry of Education gives school districts two options for French immersion programming. The most common option is to begin teaching students french in kindergarten.
SD64 offers a late French immersion option to students entering middle school. This allows the district to offer French immersion to all students equally, since students from Saturna, Pender, Mayne and Galiano come to Salt Spring for middle school.
“One of the reasons that SD64 hasn’t offered the early French immersion is because of the equitability of offering it on Salt Spring and not one of the other Gulf Islands,” Doucet said.
“At the later level, we depend on students already having strategies for decoding, writing and reading. They use their first language skills to acquire a second language.”
Beginning a new language later is more difficult at first for the students, but both programs are considered equivalent in terms of success rate. Doucet explained that the first few months of the Grade 6 year are for re-learning vocabulary and language in order to continue into more difficult courses like sciences and social studies.
For more on this story, see the September 12, 2018 issue of the Gulf Islands Driftwood newspaper, or subscribe online.