The long lineups have shrunk but the French immersion program in School District #83 has grown tremendously.
As of the 2017-2018 school year, 778 students or 12.7 per cent of the student body in School District 83 North Okanagan-Shuswap were registered in the program.
That’s higher than the 9.5 per cent of the entire student body in the province during the same period.
School District #83 French immersion co-ordinator Jared King says the program, which began with two kindergarten classes and two Grade 6 French immersion classes in Salmon Arm in September 2003, has grown steadily.
Other classes were added to both early and late entry access to the program over the years and 2015 marked the first graduating class of students who began the program in kindergarten.
Former French immersion co-ordinator and principal of the new Outdoor School, Isabelle Gervais, says the stats were high for the 2017-18 school year, but might be lower this year as some students have left the program in order to go to the new school.
Meanwhile, King, who is also vice-principal at Bastion Elementary, says the program is healthy and sustainable.
“We have seen a lot of success; our numbers have been very strong and we continue to get a lot of support from the district and the federal government,” says King, noting the French language is part of Canadian culture and heritage, and an asset in brain development.
Bastion is a dual-track school, with students in 11 out of 17 classes enrolled in French immersion, but King says friendships are built among all the students.
On Oct. 2, King will host a parent meeting at 7 p.m. at Bastion school to provide information on the French immersion program. District-wide registration for kindergarten, including the French immersion program and the Outdoor School, opens on Oct. 9.
An information meeting and registration for the late French Immersion program will be held in late February or early March.
King says school district officials examined the issue of the long lineups of the past by looking at what other school districts in the province were doing.
While the issue is not a problem at the moment, although the program is almost full, King says the school board may have to resort to lineups in the future.
“If we find we have too many people but not enough spaces, we will go to a lineup,” he says. “Our numbers are strong, close to being full, but we don’t want to turn anyone away.”
Since the first French immersion class opened in St. Lambert, Quebec in 1965, more than one million Canadians have benefited from the program.
According to Stats Canada, Canadians who speak both French and English earn, on average, 10 per cent more, and have a lower unemployment rate, compared to Canadians who only speak one of our two official languages.
As well, there are cognitive developmental benefits of learning an additional language, such as: stronger listening skills, improved focus and concentration, increased ability to understand complex problems and higher tolerance, insight and understanding of other cultures.