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SD48 conducts review of French immersion program

French Immersion enrolment has seen significant growth in recent years

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As demand for French immersion grows in the Sea to Sky School District (SD48), school administrators are gauging public interest in the program.

A survey was sent to parents and focus groups were held in each community in the district in November.

The review is standard practice for SD48 "Programs of Choice"— which along with French immersion include things like sports academies and the Cultural Journeys program — around the three-year mark, said assistant superintendent Jody Langlois.

Early French immersion was introduced in Squamish in the 2014-15 school year, she said.

"We just want to know what's working, where are some needs being seen, and anything else (parents) want to tell us or bring to our attention," Langlois said.

"We get feedback anecdotally all the time from staff and parents, but until you can actually do a robust survey and get it right across the district... it just formalizes the process, and I think it's just a responsible thing to do."

Results from the survey will be presented at the school board's January meeting.

Potential changes to the program will hinge on the feedback received, and no actions are determined at this point, Langlois said.

Demand for the program has been growing, she added, from 122 students in Kindergarten and Grade 1 in the Squamish area in September 2014 to 176 this year.

Total French immersion enrolment in Whistler has grown from 117 in October 2013 to 208 in 2017.

"I can anecdotally say there's been a huge increase through our early French immersion program, for sure," Langlois said.

"Demand is very robust."

It's hard to say what might change with the program moving forward, but finding French immersion teachers could make expansion difficult.

"I'm sure we're going to hear a lot about that (through the survey). That's a valid concern," Langlois said.

"It's a valid concern right across the country. Our HR department has been really on top of it; we've sent staff to the east to help at recruitment fairs and whatnot to sort of try and woo them, and that was a really successful strategy last year, so we're doing everything we can."

French immersion enrolment has been going up district wide, said director of instruction Paul Lorette.

"Last year we had 922 students in French immersion programs. This year we have 1,030, which is up by 108," he said. "We've had huge growth in French immersion, primarily because we started a new early immersion program about four years ago, and so every year, basically, we're adding a whole grade of students."

But that's expected to change now that the district's first early immersion students have caught up to the late immersion, which starts at Grade 5.

"(Our first early immersion students) are now in Grade 4," Lorette said.

"So that quick growth will slow, will correct now, because we're not adding a whole new cohort of students every year."

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