Board says ‘bonjour’ to French

  • Jun. 30, 2006 2:00 p.m.

There will be a French Immersion class at Sk’aadgaa Naay elementary this fall if the school district can hire a teacher, superintendent Mike Woods said at a school board meeting June 27.
The district decided to advertise for a teacher and hold the class at Sk’aadgaa Naay after the parents of about 40 students, ranging in age from preschool to grade 7, expressed interest in the program.
Principal Elizabeth Condrotte said the interest came mostly from the south end of the islands, hence the decision to hold the class at Sk’aadgaa Naay. The interested grade 1 and 2 students add up to 23, which could form a reasonably-sized class, she said.
“Grade 1 and 2 is where the majority of interest lies,” she said. “Either kindergarten or 3 could be added and it would still be a good-sized class.”
However, these numbers represent interested students rather than fully-committed students and must be firmed up over the summer.
The district did receive several responses to its advertisement for a French Immersion teacher and may hire one relatively soon, Ms Condrotte said. However, she warned, there is a huge demand for these teachers all across Canada.
Once a teacher is hired, the district can apply to the federal government for funding for the French Immersion program, she added.
The district wants to make sure the French Immersion program pays for itself, Mr. Woods said. The federal funding will help cover the extra expense, as will the program’s potential to attract new students to the district.
Queen Charlotte-Sandspit trustee Christine Martynuik said she heard from an off-island family just this week who wanted to know if the program is in place yet, as they don’t want to move here unless it is available.
Four or five children on the list of interested students are not attending district schools at the moment, Mr. Woods said. Attracting completely new students (as opposed to students already enrolled in district schools, but switching to the immersion program) will bring additional revenue to the district, because the provincial government provides the bulk of funding on a per-student basis.
However, forming a French Immersion class in such a small district will be challenging, as Mr. Woods made clear.
Administrators are bound by provincial legislation restricting the overall number of students in each class and the number of special needs students in each class. Taking a few students from each grade 1 and 2 class in the district to create a separate French Immersion class will restrict them even further.
“It doesn’t give you the flexibility to chunk the students the way you might want to,” he warned.
Haida Education Director Vonnie Hutchingson said it was important to note that the children in the French Immersion class will still receive Haida language and culture instruction, like all other students at Sk’aadgaa Naay. About three or four Haida families have expressed interest in French Immersion, she added.
Port Clements trustee Lisa Gyorgy said an issue the board may have to consider is whether to offer transportation for children living in Port or Masset who want to attend French Immersion. However, this was not discussed further at the board meeting.