French immersion classes vitally important in northwestern B.C.

Possible shift to online courses not a viable alternative

Dear Sir:

It was with profound disappointment that I discovered that a small committee of people examining French immersion trends in the Coast Mountains School District has recommended to the school board that in future, should a minimum of 18 French immersion students not enroll at Skeena Middle School or Caledonia Senior School, that French Immersion need not be taught at those schools and that those students should take their courses by distance education i.e. on-line.

While I understand well the conundrum low enrollment and attrition poses for maintaining services, I would argue that it is incumbent on the school board to ensure that French immersion classes continue to be offered, even if numbers in some years may be lower than others.

The problem of attrition at the junior high level can be attributed to many things, but as a bilingual parent raising bilingual children, I am imploring the Coast Mountains School District to recognize the importance of offering French Immersion to students in this district at all levels.

Anyone who has tried to learn another language or practice a second language will understand how much easier it is to learn in a group context, where the subtleties of language are shared through expression, tone of voice, physicality and gesture.

Language is organic. Language is reflective of culture. And in Canada, we have two official languages.

I am bilingual. Knowing two official languages has offered me opportunities that I may not have had otherwise. Being bilingual helped when I applied to become a Rotary Youth Exchange student as a teenager (I lived in India for almost a year in 92-93); being bilingual helped me not only get work in Jasper National Park as I was putting myself through university, but helped me communicate with French-speaking Canadians and others from around the globe.

As a bilingual journalist, I was invited to go to Bosnia with the Canadian Armed Forces to better understand peacekeeping operations there, because French-speaking troops were posted there at the time.

While working at Rio Tinto Alcan my bilingualism was put to work every single day.

But most rewarding, has been watching my eldest son learn to speak, read and write in French with confidence.

When he was six, we traveled to France, where he was able to communicate relatively fluently after having taken just two years of French immersion at that time.

He is at Skeena right now in the French immersion program and I hope he will be able to continue to learn in both of Canada’s official languages.

The ability to speak and learn in French on a daily basis has laid the critical foundation for him as his language develops. I am not convinced this will be the case for students told they must learn by distance education.

To the Coast Mountains School District, please consider other options to stave off attrition of French immersion students rather than collapsing a program that brings real and tangible benefits to many in our community.

Sarah Zimmerman,

Terrace, B.C.