Picking schools

December 23, 2021   ·   0 Comments

By Julie Chami Lindsay

Ringing in the New Year will mean kindergarten registration for three- and four-year-olds across the province. But before deciding which school your child will be attending, make sure you take a moment to carefully consider each option. As a veteran teacher, school researcher, and fellow parent, I urge you to remember that you have choices (some more than others) and that your decision will determine your soon-to-be teenager’s peer group, their university application, employability, and future success. If that sounds a little too intense, I promise you that there’s enough truth in it to read the rest of this article. Preparation, knowledge, and understanding your options are the keys to a successful school choice.

In Ontario, choice is not equally distributed. If you happen to speak French, be Catholic and live in a decently populated area, then congratulations – you have the most choice of all the other public-school parents. The rest of you will fall somewhere in the mix. Regardless, you each have decisions to make, and what you decide will launch your child on a particular path. I’m about to share some of (what I call) my educational currency with you so that you are better prepared to make the right choice for your family.

Choosing a school for your kinder kid is a little like filling out an NCAA March Madness bracket. There are two distinct conferences: Francophones and, the rest of you. Francophones may attend French Public or French Catholic schools. If you are Francophone-Canadian, you are guaranteed the right to a French education within a reasonable distance from your home. If you don’t have this, then tell someone. You absolutely should. This is distinctive from French Immersion which is simply a regional program designed for non-Francophone students to learn French. No one is entitled to a French Immersion education.

Those of you who speak English, or any other language at home, will choose from the English bracket which includes, Public, Catholic, French Immersion Public and French Immersion Catholic. Ask questions. While not everyone is eligible to enrol in the Catholic school board, you may be more eligible than you think. French Catholic school Board may accept members of similar Christian faiths, for example, Eastern Orthodox. English Catholic school boards generally accept students whose parent(s) can prove they were baptized, even if they, themselves were not.

If you are considering a Catholic education for your child, keep in mind that both the secular and Catholic public systems offer a significant amount of character development. However, the emphasis on specific themes will inevitably differ. (See flags being flown outside of each building.) Be assured that if you choose to send your child to a Catholic school, they will pray every day. They will learn all subjects through the lens of the faith. They will be offered their sacraments and sacrament preparation at school, and they will be connected with a parish. If this sounds good to you but you haven’t owned a Bible since you’ve used the Yellow Pages, you may want to invest some time at the Church and consider baptizing now. Alternatively, you can always consider waiting for high school at which point all students are welcome.

Probably the most famous decision of all is whether to choose French Immersion (FI). Certain school boards require a decision at kindergarten registration. Other school boards begin FI in grade one. Unless your child eventually transfers from a Francophone school board or another FI school, this popular program has only one admittance point. If missed, your child will not – I repeat – will not be allowed to opt-in later.

In case you are wondering, the answer is no. French Immersion is not right for every child. The FI program means language expectations times two. It will also mean that your child will be learning certain subjects in French, including science and history, meaning that these heavy subjects will be experienced in a non-native language. Be assured that the program is designed for those learning French at school, meaning most parents do not speak French and have limited ability to support language learning at home. Many students receive private tutoring at home. Teachers will expect your child to put in the extra work, time, and effort to be successful in the program. Remember also that your local FI school may or may not be the same school as your English home school. If at any point you decide to remove your child from the program, you may be switching schools. It also means that if you have multiple children and that may not all be enrolled in FI, you may find yourself with kids ay different schools. An unfortunate reality of dual-track schools, those offering both English and FI programs, is that the French stream tend to have smaller class sizes and fewer behavioural issues. And students who can hack it will enjoy the obvious benefits of being a French speaking Canadian. If you happen to be raising the next prime minister of Canada, I recommend making this program work.

The good news is that Ontario’s public schools are celebrated around the globe as leaders in equity and innovation. Theoretically, there really is no wrong choice. However, you do have the option to make the best choice for your family. My advice is to ask questions. Get informed and be prepared. You are not registering for kindergarten. You are propelling them on their academic journey. 

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