When Tania Heaton moved to Vernon from the Lower Mainland, she enrolled her daughter at Beairsto school.
As the only school in the district offering early French immersion, it was a logical choice for the family. But it would not have been the first choice, if Vernon offered a francophone school.
“I find it hard to believe that towns much smaller than Vernon, like Nelson, have francophone schools, but Vernon does not,” said Heaton. “Is it because there are not enough qualified people who would want a francophone school or is it because qualified people are not aware that their children have a right to receive a francophone education in B.C.?”
Heaton grew up in St-Felix De Valois, a small town in Quebec where 95 per cent of residents were French.
“My father’s side of the family were all English,” she said. “Myself and my siblings were lucky enough to learn to speak French (as a second language) at a young age because we were surrounded by people who knew very little English.
“I attended kindergarten to Grade 4 in French but left after Grade 4, because at the time if I left English school I would not be able to go back due to new laws passed by the provincial government, so I completed my education in English. I speak French fluently, but do not write French correctly.”
Heaton is in the process of gauging other parents’ interest in starting a francophone program and wants people to know the admission eligibility criteria for starting a francophone school.
“I would like French-speaking people of Vernon to know that if they are eligible and interested, that there is a very good possibility that the government would start one up, providing there is enough interest,” she said. “I believe to start up a new school, there only needs to be about 15 to 20 qualified children.
“If I get enough qualified families by January 31, 2016, a francophone school could be started up for the next school year.”
The purpose of a francophone school is to teach French as a first language and encourage strong bilingualism. The teaching takes place in French. The purpose of a French immersion school is to teach French as a second language. English is the first language.
Vernon School District superintendent Joe Rogers said francophone schools throughout the province fall under the jurisdiction of School District 93, the Conseil Scolaire Francophone (CSF).
“If parents want it and there is enough interest, then that is something they can do,” he said. “They could use a school in our district and lease it from us. There are always some francophone parents who want this — if they have children who have been speaking French at home and are fluent by the time they start kindergarten, then French immersion may not be the best option for them.
“But we would be there to support families in our district and work with School District 93 to make it work.”
The CSF is a public school board that delivers the Ministry of Education curriculum. The CSF offers exactly the same programs of study as all the other public schools in B.C.
The CSF has several eligibility criteria for a child to be automatically eligible for the francophone program: if the first language you learned and still understand is French; or if you attended primary school in French in Canada (excluding immersion); or if one of your children attended primary or secondary school in French in Canada (excluding immersion) or if one of your children is currently attending primary or secondary school in French in Canada (excluding immersion).
“Interesting things to note are that the grades determined by the ministry indicate that students in the CSF are just as successful, if not more so, in the provincial exams as students in B.C. schools overall in a number of subjects, including mathematics, reading and writing,” said Heaton.
Contact Heaton at email@example.com if you are interested in a francophone program. For more information, see www.csf.bc.ca/informations/foire-aux-questions/#eng