September 09, 2016 - 9:30 AM
"THEY TAKE 88 KIDS IN KINDERGARTEN. IF YOU'RE NOT IN THAT 88 THEN YOU'RE OUT OF LUCK"
VERNON - There may well be more bilingual kids than adults in Vernon.
That’s because the city’s French Immersion program is booming. There were just over 1,100 students registered last year, representing about 13 per cent of the entire student body in the Vernon School District, according to a report from the B.C. division of Canadian Parents for French.
Cheryl Dowler is the vice-president of the Vernon chapter of the non-profit organization and says the community is lucky to boast a strong French Immersion program.
“I’ve heard over the years it’s the envy of other school districts,” she says.
French Immersion is offered at École Beairsto Elementary from grades one to seven, with students beginning the program in kindergarten at either Alexis Park Elementary or Harwood Elementary. There is also a late French Immersion program offered at Hardwood for students starting grade six. Students can take French Immersion right up until Grade 12 at W.L. Seaton Secondary.
“It’s really neat because it makes the world a little bit more global for them. They realize there’s not just English, there’s other languages out there. It opens that world up to them,” Dowler says.
The number of students enrolled in the program has climbed steadily from about 870 students in 2006 to 1,100 last year and parents are keenly aware of the popularity. It’s not uncommon for people to camp out at 4 a.m. on registration day to line up and secure a spot for their child.
“It’s a pretty intense morning,” Dowler says. “They only take 88 kids in Kindergarten. If you’re not in that 88 then you’re out of luck.”
Superintendent of School District 22 Joe Rogers says for the most part, there is just enough room and few, if any, locals get turned away. But locals aren’t the only ones interested in the program, with families in the North Okanagan-Shuswap and Central Okanagan School Districts also trying to get in.
“We normally handle everyone that lives within our boundary, but there is a waitlist for students from School District 23 and 83,” Rogers says. “Our policy is to take our students first.”
And Vernon students can talk the talk. Every year, the school district sends students to compete in the Concours d’art oratoire — a French public speaking competition. Over the past six years, Vernon has always seen a local student win at provincials.
Learning a second language not only makes youth more employable across Canada, it’s also been shown to benefit brain development, Rogers says. Plus, they strike up a conversation without missing a beat.
“Last June I went to Quebec with the grade eight and nine students and I was really impressed. They could converse with anybody in Quebec. I was amazed,” Rogers says.
Registration usually happens in mid-January and parents are advised to watch for dates and deadlines early in the New Year.
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