Robson EFI students get to stay together

Early French immersion (EFI) students at John Robson will be able to move with their English buddies to the new elementary school when it is completed.

Construction is expected to begin later this year at the former St. Mary's Hospital site at Royal Avenue and Merrivale Street. When it's finished, the kindergarten to Grade 5 students at John Robson elementary will move there, and a middle school built in its place.

In April 2010, the board of education decided the EFI stream would be moved to Lord Kelvin while the new middle school was built. But when the Ministry of Education approved funding to increase enrolment at the new school from 350 to 500, the district decided to reconsider. And on Tuesday, the board opted to reverse its earlier plan.

"We were pleased with that decision," said Robson parent advisory council (PAC) president Serena Trachta. "The kids have friends in the school and they want to keep the group together … If we lost either stream (English or French) we would lose some wonderfully dedicated parents."

Robson has 475 students and the French immersion community makes up about 100 to 110 of the 350 families in the school. Trachta said a survey of the French families yielded returns from 60 of them, and 87 per cent supported staying in the Robson family when it moves down Royal.

"I'm really happy for the John Robson EFI community, because that school is a true community," said trustee Lisa Graham, the board's liaison with Robson. "When I go to their PAC meeting you have a great participation rate, probably one of the biggest in the district, and it's very representative. You have both English and French and you see these parents are friends with each other. There's no divisiveness, no separation of groups. They are one community."

Graham, however, doesn't agree with sending the EFI grade 6 and 7 students to Glenbrook middle school while the Robson middle school is being built. She said that school is already too crowded and they should stay at the new elementary.

However, board chair Michael Ewen said that doesn't make sense because the new elementary will only be for kindergarten to Grade 5 students.

"If it comes down to it, and it becomes an issue we can always have fewer kids going into late French immersion and only have three classes instead of two (at Glenbrook)," said Ewen.

It's a solution that doesn't satisfy Graham.

"I'm uncomfortable with that. That's like robbing Peter to pay Paul."

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