It may not have been the easiest transition but students in the elementary school French Immersion program are now well settled into their new home at Glendale Elementary School.
“I think things went well,” says Kari Urquhart, president Canadian Parents for French Williams Lake Chapter.
“There is always the transition period where everyone is adjusting. Our French books are slowly making it out on the shelves, the French signs from Marie Sharpe have been moved over. I guess all in all the year has been pretty good.”
The French language books didn’t start arriving from Marie Sharpe until after Christmas.
Earlier this year some students said they were fine and even more than fine with the move while others said they miss their friends and teachers at Marie Sharpe Elementary School.
The elementary French Immersion program was moved from Marie Sharpe to Glendale last September in a cost cutting measure by the School District 27 board.
By moving French Immersion to Glendale elementary the district was able to move the Skyline and GROW programs from rental accommodation into the annex on the Marie Sharpe site, thereby saving $87,000 per year in lease fees.
Special events planned for the annual Francophone and French Immersion Week March 4 to 10 had to be cancelled this year due to the teacher job action but eventually the students did make their way to city hall for a tour and to sing O’Canada in French. Theatre La Seizieme from Quebec also visited the school in May.
The French Immersion program runs on the regular school year calendar, September to June, while the English speaking program at Glendale runs on a modified year-round schedule with a longer break in the spring and a shorter summer break.
Principal Matt Cullum says the French Immersion program has about the same number of children as it had at Marie Sharpe.
Because of the small number of students attending the school most English and French language classes are split grade classes.
In French immersion this year he says there were 20 students in the Kindergarten/Grade 1 class taught by Jocelyne MacDonnell; 20 students in the Grade 1/2 class taught by Julianne Wellinger; 20 students in the Grade 3/4/5 class taught by Nicole Ratko; and 24 students in the Grade 5/6/7 class taught by Sonja Kurkiniemi.
Sonja is one of several teachers in the Williams Lake area who have followed their parents into the field of education. Her mother is WLSS teacher Susan Kurkiniemi. And ironically Sonja took her Grade 9/10 science and French classes with Nicole, who is originally from Ontario, and whose first language is French.
After graduation Sonja continued her studies in French at Vancouver Island University in Nanaimo.
On the English side there are three split classes: a Kindergarten/Grade 1/2 class; a Grade 3/4/5 class and a Grade 5/6/7 class.
Cullum notes the school has 9.5 full time equivalent teachers (including prep time). Given the number of split grades the school is also provided with 65 hours a week of teaching assistant time.
He says students have friends in both the English and French immersion streams and he believes parents are happy with the change.
He says they encourage friendships between French Immersion and English stream students by having mixed student activities and sporting events such as volleyball, and basketball, and lunch time activities such as crazy carpet sledding. For awhile, when the weather was cold enough, he says the school had a skating rink.
He says the French Immersion group has also been hosting movie nights for all students to raise funds for a trip to Quebec for the Grade 6/7s in May 2013 which will cost approximately $2,000 per student participating.
Sonja Kurkiniemi says the French immersion students do all their studies in French and are required to speak french during all classes, but they can speak English outside of class at lunch and recess.
One class is even raising sockeye salmon in a tank in French which will be released in the spring.
In Grade 4 the French Immersion students also start taking English lessons for about 95 minutes a week.
For their social science projects some of the Grade 7s are researching and writing about French speaking countries such as Senegal, Luxembourg, Belgium and of course Quebec in Canada. They have found 29 French speaking countries to write about.
“Sometimes a word or two comes out in English,” Sonja says.
School District 27 trustee Sheila Boehm, who has two children in the French Immersion program, says she is happy to report that there is a waiting list for the Kindergarten French Immersion program. “I am very excited,” Boehm says of the future of the program.