French immersion in Nanaimo school district sees record interest

The highest-ever number of students are signed up for the program locally.

The Nanaimo school district has established a provincial record for French immersion enrolment, according to a non-profit group that promotes French in the education system.

According to Canadian Parents for French’s 2014 State of the French Second Language report for the B.C. and Yukon, 1,386 students in the school district, or 10 per cent, were enrolled in French immersion during the 2013-14 school year.

Furthermore, while the overall enrolment throughout the school district dropped by 6.5 per cent, or 959 students, over the past six years, French immersion enrolment has grown 17.7 per cent, or 208 students, during those years.

The school district has early French immersion, with entry in kindergarten or Grade 1, and the newly introduced late immersion program with Grade 6 entry. Peter Hewitt, school district French programs administrator, suggested the record is due to the fact that there has been an increase in the number of kindergarten spots available to families over the last 10 years.

According to Hewitt, the district is now accepting 176 students in early French immersion each year.

“The numbers are increasing because those 176 are moving up the line every year and now they’re up to Grade 5 and Grade 6 and Grade 7, so there’s a wave of French immersion students coming through the district,” Hewitt said.

Despite the overall dropping enrolment, he said many of the parents that are staying in the school district are choosing the French immersion programs.

“That percentage of enrolment seems to be going up every year,” Hewitt said.

Glyn Lewis, Canadian Parents for French’s B.C. and Yukon executive director, said information was gathered and analyzed from Ministry of Education numbers from the last 10 years. He said it’s promising for the school district and there seems to be considerable interest and demand.

“It’s positive to see the numbers growing and I guess it’s just a continued conversation about ensuring the programs are accessible to all families who want to participate,” Lewis said.

Early French immersion is offered at Hammond Bay, North Oyster, Pauline Haarer and Quarterway elementary schools. Late immersion is also offered at Quarterway and high school French immersion is offered at Nanaimo District Secondary School.

Hewitt doesn’t think there will be extra French immersion classes opening up next year, however it will depend entirely on demand.