Whitehorse Daily Star

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POPULAR PROGRAM – Three French immersion classes are offered at École Whitehorse Elementary School. The issue of French immersion enrolment surfaced Monday in the Yukon legislature.

YG adds one French immersion class for kindergarteners

The Department of Education has bumped up the number of classes offering French immersion for kindergarteners for the upcoming school year.

By Palak Mangat on March 19, 2019

The Department of Education has bumped up the number of classes offering French immersion for kindergarteners for the upcoming school year.

However, there are still 11 parents left without a spot for their little ones – five months before students begin the 2019-20 school.

The government is hopeful, though, that will change ahead of the tail end of summer.

That’s according to Education Minister Tracy-Anne McPhee, who confirmed in the legislature Monday that 11 parents were left without a spot after a lottery took place on Feb. 18.

Both a lottery and waitlist that come out of it are common, McPhee said.

“It’s not uncommon; we’ve had it happen in past years for sure,” she told reporters shortly after question period, during which she was questioned about the lottery by the Yukon Party.

Growing demand for French immersion programs isn’t new. The department bumped up the number of classes last fall at the two local schools where it’s offered for kindergarteners.

That means there will now be five classes; three at École Whitehorse Elementary School and two at Selkirk Elementary, whereas last year there was one at Selkirk.

That also bumped up the available spaces for French immersion at Selkirk from 18 to 36, department spokesperson Kyle Nightingale said Tuesday afternoon.

“ Additional spaces at Selkirk Elementary School were offered to parents on the waiting list,” he added.

That’s left the minister hopeful that the just under-a-dozen students will find a space.

“Typically, we’ll be able to place those 11 kids in French immersion just based on what we know and what the numbers in the past have been,” McPhee said.

Nightingale echoed this, adding that “in previous years, Kindergarten pre-registrations have shifted and families have decided to move their children into another school before the school year starts.

“This has freed up space to accommodate students on the waitlist,” Nightingale said.

As for just how common lotteries were done and if 11 is a severe number, he noted that a lottery process has been in place since 2015-16.

“In the last two years, six students were placed on the waitlist for French Immersion Kindergarten programs.

“However, in each of these school years, we were able to accommodate all students that were put on the wait list for French Immersion programs, as space did open up,” he added.

That meant there were no students essentially turned away from French immersion enrollment in the last two school years.

“After prioritizing siblings, 38 students were entered in the lottery for École Whitehorse Elementary School for next school year for the remaining 25 spaces.”

McPhee agreed that with a number of months until kids head back to school, it allows for some breathing space as YG sees where the chips fall and the next few months unfold.

“Some parents don’t end up taking their spot, people move – there’s all kinds of things that change over the next number of months.

“We should be able to place those families in French immersion where they choose to be.”

There is, she pointed out, also space in French immersion for Grade 1 classes; Nightingale confirmed that class sizes increase from 18 in Kindergarten to 22 in Grade 1 via the collective agreement with the Yukon Teachers’ Association.

“Parents can contact the schools directly to inquire if space is available in Grade 1 or Grade 6,” he added.

Yukon Party education critic Scott Kent wondered if more interest would lead the department to consider expanding the French immersion program to other schools. McPhee said that’s not a plan for YG at this stage.

Referencing the 11 parents on the waitlist, she told the House Monday that “there is no indication that an expansion of the French immersion program is appropriate at this time.”

Nor is there any magic number, she said, likening it to a “moving target.

“The other consideration of course is space; we have to make sure we have the appropriate spaces for our increased Kindergartens if we’re going to ever do that.”

The extra class being offered at Selkirk for the upcoming school year is being accommodated by shifting existing resources, Nightingale said.

“Schools have some ability to change enrolment capacity based on how they organize their classes and use the available learning spaces,” he wrote.

“Selkirk Elementary School is able to provide two regular classroom spaces for French immersion programming next school year, as they have done in previous school years.”

That’s on top of the nation-wide shortage of qualified teachers, McPhee said.

The department, however, could not provide specific statistics as to the demand and supply of teachers to the Star.

The pre-registration process for Kindergarten (including French immersion) began on Feb. 11. Parents are generally told in March which school their child will go to, a department webpage notes.

Registration is then either finalized or the department works with individual families if they don’t get enrolled in the school they wanted and offer options.

“It is only after that process proceeds that there may be a lottery,” McPhee said, adding “it certainly is not something that is done every year” and is used as a “last-resort process.”

McPhee also noted that there is no plan to introduce French immersion for Kindergarten in the new school being planned for Whistle Bend, which the 2019-20 budget projects YG to spend $1.6 million on this upcoming fiscal year.

That makes up part of the $29 million it expects capital costs to be for the department, with most of it ($19 million) going toward the French first language secondary school in Riverdale.

The territory is also inching forward on its plans for that school, which are expected to come online in 2020.

Construction is to begin this spring, and expected to wrap up by the winter of 2021.

As the Star reported last December, that project is already over-budget, as the cost of construction alone has gone over the overarching project budget, in part because of tariffs.

Meanwhile: according to the department’s 2017 annual report, there were 5,342 students in Kindergarten to Grade 12 – 719 of whom were in French immersion (as of June 2017).

The French immersion program began nationally during the 1970s and came to the territory in 1981, a department webpage notes. It’s designed for those students whose first language is not French.

Graduates of the program should be able to continue working or studying in both French and English.

Comments (6)

Up 9 Down 3

North_of_60 on Mar 23, 2019 at 2:55 pm

Build the new French high school in Wasteland Bend. Solve two problems at once.

Up 37 Down 9

Winston on Mar 21, 2019 at 6:51 am

Why did we win the war again? Oh yeah, so we could pay for someone else's ideology that 98% of the rest of the world doesn't use. But you will be qualified for a government career.

Up 39 Down 9

moose101 on Mar 21, 2019 at 5:30 am

French does not get you anywhere unless you want to be a top bureaucrat in the federal government . Has any one ever done a follow up study on students who took French immersion? Likely have but results were never published because they were all negative and it wouldn't be politically correct. If they want to teach a language that people can actually use in there lifetime make it Spanish .

Up 40 Down 11

Greico on Mar 20, 2019 at 12:15 am

Oh the ole bilingual boondoggle that simply keeps on taking. Bilingualism costs this country 2.4 billion, a modest estimate, every year. Can someone tell me as a country how can this be tollerated?

Up 4 Down 19

A new school in Whistle Bend and no French Immersion? on Mar 19, 2019 at 11:38 pm

There's going to be a new school in Whistle Bend in the next years? News to me--thought that wasn't happening for several years. And no French Immersion? With a shortage, shouldn't there be more classes created?

Up 20 Down 5

Jan KRIZANOVSKY on Mar 19, 2019 at 3:47 pm


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