Demand for French immersion is increasing in the Maple Ridge Pitt Meadows School District. (iStock photo)

Demand for French immersion is increasing in the Maple Ridge Pitt Meadows School District. (iStock photo)

Demand increasing for French immersion in SD42

Most students are being accomodated in district

Record numbers of parents are trying to enrol their children in French immersion programs across the province, with the Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows school district being no exception.

SD42 French immersion enrolment was 1,603 for the current school year, up from 1,591 reported the previous year.

Irena Pochop with the school district says the increase in enrolment is largely due to the Early French Immersion program at Maple Ridge Elementary, which the district opened in 2016.

“The MRE Early French Immersion program grows by a grade cohort each year,” explained Pochop.

“For the 2019/20 school year, it will expand to include kindergarten to Grade 3,” she said.

For the current school year there were 170 kindergarten students registered in early french immersion district-wide and it is anticipated that the following school year the district will be to enrol approximately 177 kindergarten students.

On Monday, 90 parents in Vernon, B.C. camped outside school district offices in an effort to get their children into French immersion programs. In other areas across the province parents face registration lotteries.

The Canadian Parents for French British Columbia and Yukon estimate that more than 200 students will be on waiting lists to get into immersion programs across the province.

The Maple Ridge Pitt Meadows district moved to online registration in January 2013.

“I think (the online system) works for us. I think you have to look at your own culture and what’s going to work for you,” said Shelley Linton, Pitt Meadows Elementary principal and French immersion coordinator.

Before that there were lineups in this district as well.

But Linton said, they really wanted to avoid that and online really helps.

Linton expects that families that register their children at noon on the day that registration opens, will most likely get into their catchment school, whether that be Laity View elementary, Eric Langton elementary or Maple Ridge elementary.

Pitt Meadows elementary is the only school they have problems accommodating students.

“What we tried to do last year was our biggest wait list was at Pitt Meadows elementary. What we were able to do was offer spots. We had spots available for anybody really that wanted them at a different school,” said Linton, adding that this option takes students off of waiting lists.

“We were able to accommodate three or four of them at Maple Ridge elementary and then what happens is, the kindergarten numbers are 20 per class but primary numbers are 22. So, the following year then, there is a potential you could take four to six more students. So we then had a couple, not all, but a couple, come back to their catchment school,” Linton continued.

Registration starts with siblings of students already attending the desired elementary school. That already took place on Jan. 21. Then in-catchment children are considered with a proof of residence, taking place at noon on Feb. 1, for any of the choice programs in the district also including The Environmental School and Montessori. Then in-catchment daycare with a proof of daycare in-catchment, followed by out-of-catchment without siblings and then out-of-district.

Each year students in this district are registered to the capacity of the programming within the school buildings. Pochop explained that wait lists are established when caps are reached. And as space becomes available, the district goes to the chronological wait list to fill those seats. At the point of registration, parents or guardians are also asked about their first and second choice of schools, and the district tries their best to accommodate those wishes.

Linton feels like this system is the best way to accommodate the majority of the families in the district. Even if they have no access to a computer they can call the school.

“We, actually, at all of our schools have technology available. So, if we get a phone call from somebody who says I don’t have a computer, we would say come in and we can help you do it right at that time,” she said.

Currently there are no plans for expansion of the program.

Maple Ridge Elementary was opened in 2016 in response to community interest.

There is also a late French immersion program offered at Golden Ears elementary. And this year for the first time they were able to run a Grade 6 and a Grade 7 class.

Linton believes that’s another reason why there is an increase in numbers in the district.

“There was a few years back not enough demand and we almost closed the program. But now we are running two full classes there,” she said, adding that this year they added 28 children to the program at that school.

There is also the issue of teacher recruitment, more difficult for the immersion program.

Next month Linton will be going to Winnipeg, part of a recruitment drive for teachers across the country.

“Right now we have been able to fill all of our jobs,” said Linton. But it wasn’t easy, they had three classroom jobs that were filled internally by retired teachers and support teachers, until January when they had three student teachers take those positions.

“It’s challenging and every school district is fighting for the same people,” noted Linton.

Because French immersion is a popular program offering, Pochop wants to encourage parents or guardians to begin the registration process as soon as online registration process opens.

She also noted the registration form is time-stamped at the moment a parent opens the form to begin the online registration process.

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