Catholic board to drop French Immersion

After reviewing the program for three years in a row, the Northwest Catholic District School Board has decided to cancel the senior kindergarten French Immersion class for the coming school year—and gradually phase out the program entirely.
“They did decide, because of low enrolment for our SK French Immersion class, that we would cancel the program starting this year with just that SK class,” Mary-Catherine Kelly, education director for the Catholic board, noted Thursday.
The decision was made during the board’s regular monthly meeting, which was held Saturday in Dryden.
“It certainly was a very emotional [discussion],” Kelly said. “There wasn’t anybody around the table that didn’t want to see the program continue. . . . It was not an easy decision to make.”
Only eight students had enrolled to attend FSK at St. Michael’s School here this September during the school’s recent registration period.
The board’s policy states the class cannot run with less than 20 students.
The board has discussed the possibility of phasing out the FI program due to low enrolment the past two years. Last year, the board agreed to run the FSK class for the current school year—despite an enrolment of only 17 students.
The enrolment for the 2004/05 school year was 19.
Last September, the board formed a French Immersion committee to examine the program and recommend strategies to maintain its viability.
“We tried really hard,” Kelly said. “Unfortunately, we just don’t seem to have the children in the community.
“It’s not a reflection of the program itself, but it’s more of the fact that we’re in a time of declining enrolment,” she added.
The committee collected various statistics about enrolment, attrition rates, local and regional birth rates, and baptismal rates.
For example, 58 children were baptized at St. Mary’s Church here in 1994. The numbers fluctuated considerably until 2000, when 40 children were baptized.
But there’s been a steady decline since then—and only about 10 children were baptized in 2005.
The general birth rate in Fort Frances also has dropped from 176 in 1992 to just 103 in 2002.
“That’s just the reality of our community. It isn’t a reflection that [the staff are] not doing something well or the program isn’t good,” Kelly stressed.
“They’re exceptional, they’re doing a wonderful job, and the parents who have their kids in the program are very proud of the teachers and of the success of their children.
“The children do very well academically,” Kelly added. “The kids at St. Michael’s School score exceptionally well in the EQAO standings. They’re above the provincial average.”
Students already in the program can expect to continue receiving their French Immersion education.
“We would continue to serve all of the children currently in our French Immersion program,” Kelly stressed. “We would be phasing out the French Immersion program on a year-by-year basis.”
The last FI class at St. Michael’s will be offered in 2008/09 while the final FI class will graduate from St. Francis School in June, 2014.
“All of the children that are currently in French Immersion, our board has a commitment to offering the program for the completion of Grade 8,” Kelly said.
However, the board also passed a motion allowing it to review the viability of the program again in future—in case the numbers should change considerably again.
“We reserve the right to go back and look at it,” Kelly said.
Because the program will be phased out gradually, staffing levels will not be changed immediately.
“It’s not going to have an immediate large impact because we’re doing it just at the SK level,” Kelly remarked. “People aren’t losing their jobs over this.”
The parents who registered their children for FSK at St. Michael’s School for 2006/07 are being asked to re-register their children in the school’s English program.