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Late French immersion program considered for Nanaimo school district

Nanaimo school district is examining the possibility of a late French immersion program at Ecole Quarterway Elementary School for the beginning of the 2014 school year.

The early French immersion runs from kindergarten or Grade 1 to Grade 12 but if there is interest, the late program would allow up to 30 Grade 6 students to undergo an intense program through the end of Grade 7 and then integrate with early immersion students in Grade 8 at Nanaimo District Secondary School, the only high school at which immersion is offered.

According to Peter Hewitt, Quarterway principal and district French program coordinator, the program, which would be fully funded, would afford students who enter the district after Grade 1 the opportunity for French immersion and was a recommendation of the school board-commissioned French Immersion Review in 2011.

“Late immersion students differ from early immersion in the sense that the student has a voice in the decision as to whether they’re going to leave their English school and come to Quarterway,” said Hewitt. “Sometimes they’ll come alone, sometimes they’ll come with a buddy or a couple of kids from the same school.

“Because they are investing in French immersion we do a full concentration on rapid second language acquisition in the first year and we actually remove English language arts instruction for the first year – it’s 100 per cent French in the first year. In Year 2, which is Grade 7, English language arts resumes at about 20 per cent, so an hour a day, and 80 per cent continues in French.”

An information session will be held at the school on 1632 Bowen Rd. on Thursday (April 10) at 6 p.m. and expressions of interest can be forwarded to Hewitt until April 28.

The Quarterway principal said he’s fielded a number of phone calls and e-mails from people who are intending to attend the meeting and plan to register.

“If we get the expression of say more than 20, the board will seriously consider moving forward with late immersion for Grade 6 in September,” Hewitt said.

When asked if there is a drop in numbers between Grade 7 and high school, Hewitt said there are misconceptions about students leaving the program. Children leave at every grade level for a variety of reasons at every grade level, such as learning issues.

What the district has been seeing over the last few years is people leaving the district for employment and if they move out of the district, that is reflected in immersion numbers even though the people have actually left the community, said Hewitt.

“There’s no significant drop between Grade 7 and Grade 8, when they transition to secondary, anymore than any other year,” Hewitt said. “So kids, if they made it to Grade 5 or 6, or 7, the vast majority go on to Grade 8.”

Hewitt pointed to a “hiccup” that involved the immersion program in the south end at Ecole Davis Road – which is being moved to North Oyster Elementary – as parents are faced with the dilemma of whether to send their children all the way to Nanaimo District Secondary to continue French immersion or to forego immersion and keep their children closer to home at Ladysmith Secondary.

Most of the school districts on Vancouver Island offer both French immersion programs, he said.

People with questions can contact Hewitt at phewitt@sd68.bc.ca.

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