Three boards, three viewpoints: French education in Dufferin

November 23, 2016   ·   0 Comments

French Immersion has suddenly become a hot-button topic in Dufferin County, but what are the options for French language instruction, in the county and who determines them?

There are actually three different boards of education that govern French language education in Dufferin and only two of them offer French Immersion. Both the Upper Grand District School Board (UGDSB) and the Dufferin/Peel Catholic District School Board offer French Immersion (FI) programs. However the Francophone School Board for this region, Conseil scolaire Viamonde (CsV), teaches classes entirely in French, with the exception of English. CsV is one of 12 publicly funded French boards which are the only boards allowed to teach solely in French in Ontario. Their mandate is to protect, enhance and transmit the French language and culture in the province.

It has been the UGDSB that has been most in the news of late, with a proposed North Dufferin boundary change to facilitate FI in Shelburne.

According to Heather Loney, the Communications and Community Engagement Officer for the Upper Grand District School Board, there is no “Board policy” in place regarding French Immersion. Instead, it is simply viewed as a program which starts in JK and continues to Grade 12. At present, 20 UGDSB schools offer French Immersion.

Six of these schools are French Immersion centres, which are all located in Guelph,  while 14 schools are ‘Dual Track’ schools, offering both Regular Track and FI within the same school building. Two of these schools, Princess Elizabeth PS in Orangeville and Mono-Amaranth PS in Mono are part of the boundary change discussion.

The Board has this year adopted several recommendations related to delivering FI throughout the UGDSB, managing enrolment via school-level caps and improving  the hiring and retention of qualified FI teachers.

Nancy Marshall, Communications Officer with the Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board, explained that her Board approaches FI differently. They do have a policy in place, one which offers FI Programs board-wide for students beginning in Grade 1 and provides at least 3800 hours of French Language instruction by the end of eighth grade.

Any student who is eligible to attend a board school and who will be in first grade the following September may choose to go through the admittance process. After the application has been received, a random selection process is held for individual FI schools, if the received applications, exceeds the schools capacity.

French Immersion programming in Orangeville was located based upon interest surveys of Kindergarten parents.

Claire Francoeur, Director of Communications and Marketing at Conseil scolaire Viamonde, outlined her Board’s presence in Orangeville beginning in 2008, when they opened the first and only French language instruction program at their current location, the former Springbrook Public School building. At that time, there was no French Immersion classes in the area. With CsV both French and English are taught as native tongues, meaning English instruction is entirely in English, regardless of a student’s “first language”. This approach leads to a fluently bilingual student.

However, apart from English, which begins in grade four, all other subjects are taught entirely in French. CsV students start in Junior Kindergarten and continue through to grade 12 and follow the same curriculum as the other school boards.

The difference, for the CsV programs, lies with the admittance requirements. To be admitted to a Viamonde school board institution, the parent or guardian must be a Canadian citizen and meet at least one of the several requirements. Their first language learned and still understood is French, or they received an education in French at an elementary level elsewhere in Canada. Another alternative is if they are the parent or guardian of a student who has received, or is receiving, instruction at either an elementary or secondary school level in French.

Those not meeting these requirements may still be admitted, pending the assessment of an admissions committee.

Currently, the Board attempts to locate schools as close as possible to families who wish to educate their children in a French school. At present, they have 49 schools with a total of 11,500 students.

Their schools foster a sense of community, in part due to their smaller enrollments. In many cases, the teachers know all the students by name and often know their families as well.

The Orangeville school started with just 29 students and now has 200, while the secondary school in Brampton, Jeunes sans Frontieres, currently has 500 students enrolled and attending classes.

With an eye to the future, the Catholic board reviews all programs of choice, such as French Immersion, on an annual basis, in accordance with the system’s strategic plan.

Currently, the board has two points of entry for French language instruction. These are Grade 1 for French Immersion and Grade 5 for the Extended French program. However, students from equivalent FI programs or with French language skills may be admitted at any level, given there is available space.

The Dufferin-Peel Catholic board chooses schools to offer French Immersion programs based on several criteria. Schools with existing Extended French instruction, sufficient pupil places and evenly spaced geographic locations are all factors.

Using secondary schools with EF programs is particularly considered from both a resources and a staffing point of view. These schools already have significant numbers of FSL personnel as well as a climate that is very conducive to the support and expansion of an immersion environment.

The Upper Grand Board says it believes strongly in providing a range of quality programs and opportunities in order to maximize student engagement and  achievements, both at the elementary and the secondary school levels. To realize these goals the Board offers two French as a second language programs, Core French and French Immersion.

The French Immersion program, which is expected to grow in Dufferin County with the addition of a new FI program starting in September of 2017, strives to offer students a solid proficiency in French, while encouraging continued English language skills.

It is this new program in a North Dufferin school that has brought the Board a great deal of public attention lately, as it will involve moving students from the two existing schools to help relieve overcrowding, as well the establishment of a new enrollment for the fall of 2017, starting with a cap of 26 JK students at the new school.

As yet, no school has been chosen, but Centennial Hylands Public School in Shelburne is considered to be the front-runner for becoming the new home of French Immersion in North Dufferin.

Although the UGDSB supports various models for the delivery of French Immersion, it has no plans at this time to offer anything other than a JK entry point for French Immersion. This is, firstly, in line with some 70 percent of Ontario school boards, but more importantly, it is the opinion of the UGDSB that the early access to FSL programs leads to better retention, confidence, fluency and proficiency in the students.

This approach also offers the district a better predictability of the enrollment numbers they can expect and therefore, plan for.

In order to best determine the locations for programs, the UGDSB uses a number of factors and a software system that uses census data, birth rates, historical enrollment trends, retention and attrition rates, residential growth and FI participation rates. Along with residential development files and building permit activity, staff are able to update enrollment projections regularly and recommend program locations accordingly.

In general, this represents French Immersion in Dufferin in a nutshell. In subsequent articles, the challenges to each of the Boards and the solutions to those challenges will be explored as this three part series unfolds.


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