While full registration numbers for the 2016/2017 school year won’t be available until mid-September, if last year’s figures are any indication it appears more Yukon students are learning a second official language.
A report released Monday showed enrollment in French Immersion programs has increased steadily for 14 consecutive years in the territory, with the 2015/2016 school year showing a total of 670 students enrolled in a French Immersion program. That represents approximately 13 per cent of the 5,251 total Kindergarten to Grade 12 student population that was in the territory for the 2015/2016 school year.
While 13 per cent of students in the Yukon last year were in a French Immersion program, they would have all been in Whitehorse where the only immersion programs are offered at Ecole Whitehorse Elementary School, Selkirk Elementary School and F.H. Collins Secondary School.
Last year marked the first year for Selkirk’s French Immersion program, which began as a pilot project in light of growing numbers looking for immersion spots at Whitehorse Elementary, which served as the immersion school for elementary students. After last year’s program at Selkirk, it was announced that school would also continue to offer immersion.
“French immersion is a well-tested and well-established program delivery model,” Patti Holm, president of the Canadian Parents for French BC & Yukon, said in a statement. “In fact, this made-in-Canada program has been studied and replicated around the world – largely to preserve and protect native or minority languages. French immersion is designed to help students become fully bilingual by the time they graduate. It’s a powerful tool in your toolbox and graduates can use it in many different ways.”
Glyn Lewis, executive director for the BC & Yukon branch of the organization, described the increasing numbers of students enrolled in the program as “encouraging”.
He said during a visit to the territory a few months back he met with parents and officials in the Department of Education and it was in those meetings he got a sense that there is support for the programs to grow.
He also stressed though the importance of the quality of immersion programs, noting the studies done showing the need to fully “immerse” students in French in the early grades before slowly introducing some English curriculum.
In many schools across the country, students are in Grade 3 or 4 before they begin studying some English. By Grade 6 or 7 their English skills are typically on par with those in the English stream along with gaining a proficiency in French through immersion.
By graduation, it’s anticipated students who have gone through an immersion program will be bilingual or very fluent in both languages.
Students through the territory – in immersion, English and French first language programs – are beginning classes this week.
By STEPHANIE WADDELL Star Reporter