The fate of the high school French immersion program in Meadow Lake is up in the air.
The Northwest School Division (NWSD) is determining whether it can recruit qualified teachers by this spring. During discussions today, the board and superintendents set a deadline of April 18.
The topic of French immersion has been raised every year around this time since the program’s inception in the 2007-08 school year. Recruitment and retention of trained teachers, split classes, and budget are considerations the group makes each year.
Last year, the division decided to expand the program into Grade 10, but only through online courses. Terry Craig, Superintendent of Schools, said the online courses have presented some challenges for the students.
“They’re not getting a lot of oral French,” he said. “They’re taking it online and doing it but they’re not a lot of interaction French wise and that’s such an important part of the program.”
To advance the program, the division implemented an Odyssey Language Monitor during the school year and funded a two-hour online tutoring program based in Ontario three times a week.
Projections for the 2018-2019 school year for the total enrolment from Kindergarten to Grade 11 will be 122 students, with 13 students expected to enter kindergarten this fall. There are 11 students currently in Grade 9 who will be transitioning to Carpenter High School next year. High school students also must take a certain amount of both English and French language arts, social science, math and electives to have a bilingual designation on their diploma upon graduation.
A couple board members, including Vice Chair Barb Seymour, brought up concerns about the overall quality of the program without a qualified teacher at the high school level.
“I’ve thought about this all throughout Christmas, but if we can’t deliver a quality education program, I don’t know if we need to pursue it,” she said.
The staff and board acknowledged the students who have been in immersion for the last 10 years and said they have put a great deal of time and effort into maintaining their studies. However, since the program’s inception, it was not a guarantee it would expand beyond its current grade.
When asked about recruitment efforts, Davin Hildebrand, Superintendent of Human Resources said trips were made to universities with programs offering Bachelors of Education in French, with the most recent being this past fall.
“For our HR groups it’s a constant topic,” he said. “How do we find French immersion teachers? what do we do? where do we go? what are the strategies?”
Ultimately, the board decided to delay its decision on the program until the April deadline.
Board member Glen Winkler said he thought it was important to continue a search for teachers.
“I think the Grade 10's have made an effort to start at the high school level,” he said. “I would like us to see us try to get a French teacher.”
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