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Pemberton parents lobby for French immersion

Whistler parents also encouraged to attend info session



By Cindy Filipenko

Nikki Gilmore was surprised to learn, when she inquired about enrolling her kids in French immersion education in Pemberton, that the program did not exist. Gilmore, herself, was part of a pilot project early French immersion in the Yukon, completing her elementary school and two years of junior high in French. Today, the Pemberton mother of two carries on the tradition at home.

While Gilmore doesn’t use her second language on a day-to-day basis in her work or social life, she sees its value as far reaching.

  “It made me so much of who I am,” she said. “Being in French immersion was neat. You were a group of people who moved throughout the school system together. Instead of having a couple of good friends we were really united as a group.”

Gilmore is part of the Pemberton Parents for French Immersion; a committee formed last spring by a group of parents who want to ensure their children have educational access to both of Canada’s official languages.

Sheena Fraser, another member, is interested in French immersion because of the opportunities it can create for her daughter.

“Lottie also has Swiss citizenship, and having French would create enormous opportunities for her to work in Europe,” said Fraser.

Considering education’s impact on a three-year-old child’s professional career may seem to some to be jumping the gun, but Fraser has familial evidence of the positive effect being proficient in French can have on careers.

“Both my sisters were educated in French immersion and have used their second language to further their careers. I’ve missed opportunities because I don’t have a second language,” she said.

Fraser says there is support within Signal Hill Elementary School to establish the program. Both Principal Pat MacKenzie and Vice-principal Lisa Grigat have been involved in French immersion programs at other schools. The issue now is to prove to the school board that there is sufficient numbers of potential students to warrant creating the program.

“We’ve been advised by the school board that the perfect number of students would be 26,” said Fraser.

To gauge community interest, the committee, together with Signal Hill

Elementary administrators, the school board and the local school board trustees are hosting an open house on Tuesday, Jan. 16 at 7 p.m. at Signal Hill Elementary School. At that meeting, background information will be available about the benefits of French immersion and speakers will relate their personal experiences. The evening will conclude with   a question and answer period. In addition, a survey authorized by the school board will be made available to determine the community’s level of interest.   (The survey is also available through the group’s website at

At this time, Pemberton Parents for French Immersion is most interested in pursuing early immersion, with children beginning their education in French at the K-Grade 1 level. While the proposed program would be in Pemberton, the organizers encourage Whistler parents interested in early immersion to attend the information session.

To pre-register for childcare for the Jan. 16 information session, please call 604-894-2329 or 604-452-3607.