Bilingual students are on the rise in the Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows school district with over 10 per cent of students enrolling in the French immersion program and reaching a record high in the last school year.
A report released by the Canadian Parents for French B.C. and Yukon branch showed that throughout the province, French immersion enrolment has been increasing for 20 consecutive years.
Shelley Linton, Pitt Meadows Elementary principal and French immersion coordinator, said the growth is due to the opening of a new program two years ago.
“The main reason is that we opened a new program in 2016 at Maple Ridge Elementary and that was due to the demand we had. Our programs at Laity View, Pitt Meadows Elementary and Eric Langton had classes that were full and we had wait lists. That school (Maple Ridge Elementary) at the time had room where we could attract Pitt Meadows families.”
Linton explained Pitt Meadows is the community with the highest French immersion demand, despite only having one school that families can attend.
“Maple Ridge Elementary has helped with that, so we opened with two kindergarten classes, and every year we add a class as those kids go up so that’s why you’d see an increase,” said Linton.
Another reason for the increase in enrolments comes from the late French immersion program, which enrols grade six students into the French program.
“The second reason is we have a late french program at Golden Ears Elementary. Two years ago not enough students registered for a grade six class, but last year we had enough for (grade) six, so we have (grades) six and seven, so that’s another 20 or so kids,” said Linton.
In Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows SD 42, 1,591 students were registered in French immersion for the the 2017-2018 school year.
Across B.C., 53,487 students were enrolled in French immersion as of the 2017-2018 school year.
In a press release, Diane Tijman, president of Canadian Parents for French B.C. and Yukon calls French immersion a well established and highly regarded program.
“Designed to help students become functionally bilingual by the time they graduate, the program’s effects are very real, empowering young people and opening doors in so many different ways,” said Tijman.
The report also notes due to popularity of the program, B.C. districts are struggling to find enough qualified teachers and teaching assistants.
Linton agreed there is immediate demand for French immersion teachers.
“Last year we had quite a few teachers retire and we were able to hire new grads from SFU and UBC but we are still short three positions we have posted,” said Linton.
In the meantime, Linton said the open positions are being covered by on-call teachers and retired teachers who have returned to help out.
“They are filled to capacity every year, our kindergarten fills up and has a wait list. We take as many as our schools accommodate because they are all so full.”
Throughout the district, the French immersion program has four early immersions, one late immersion and two high schools. Linton said the most difficult area to accommodate is Pitt Meadows because driving children to a school in Maple Ridge is often too far for parents.
Linton said French immersion is important for families because it gives them choices in their child’s education.
“Parents are looking for options and choice, so we have lots of choices in our district, and French immersion is just another option and people understand the benefits of learning the language.”