French immersion sees spike in corridor schools

District expands search across Canada for qualified teachers

More students in the Sea to Sky corridor are enrolling in French immersion.

Around 20 per cent of the total student population for the 2016/17 school year opted for the program, according to the Sea to Sky School District. (Though that number drops to 19 per cent if you include international students.)
While that has a lot to do with schools offering the program at more grade levels, parents are interested in French for a variety of reasons, said Jody Langlois, assistant superintendent of the Sea to Sky School District.

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“Some parents like it because being proficient in a second language opens up job opportunities for you,” she said. “Some like their kids becoming more familiar with French culture. Kids also develop neuroplasticity when they learn a second language.”

The organization Canadian Parents for French B.C. and Yukon released a report last month saying last year 9.5 per cent of students in B.C. were enrolled in French immersion in the 2015/16 school year compared to 16.6 per cent of students in the Sea to Sky School District — the highest in the province.

While Langlois didn’t have provincial numbers, she said part of the local growth is due to the school district adding a Grade 3 French immersion program this year in Squamish. “Early-start” French immersion first launched with kindergarten and Grade 1 classes in 2014, followed by Grade 2 last year and Grade 3 this year. That will continue up to Grade 5, when the more established “late-start” French immersion program begins.

Whistler and Pemberton currently only offer late-start programs, which have been popular, Langlois said.

“We’re always willing to listen to the needs of our learners,” she said about potentially adding French immersion in earlier grades in those locations. “We started with Squamish because French immersion programs are more sustainable in more populated areas.”

According to Canadian Parents for French, the demand for French immersion is creating a teacher shortage in the province. While the Sea to Sky School District has managed to fill all the positions it needs for this year, it is challenging to find qualified French teachers, Langlois said.  

“What we’ve done is advertise across Canada. We’ve taken a fairly assertive marketing stance in trying to get French immersion teachers,” she said. “It has been very successful to this point. They’re coming from all over — some from Alberta, some from the east in Ontario… people do want to move to the Sea to Sky.”

To that end, enrollment in both English and French appears to be growing in Squamish and Whistler this year, she added. Although it’s difficult to calculate exact numbers so early in the school year, Squamish has had the highest growth, with Whistler trailing behind. Pemberton has seen a decline in students. “That could change in a couple weeks time,” Langlois added. “It’s a snapshot in time.”

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