Rainbow Board drops primary French, parent upset

by Alicia McCutcheon

MANITOULIN—As of September of this year, French will only be offered starting in Grade 4, dropping Grades 1 through 3 from the language component of the Rainbow District School Board (RDSB), which has one parent fuming.

Seija Deschenes of White’s Point is a mother of three, two of whom are currently school-going age, with a daughter in Grade 2 and a son in Senior Kindergarten at Little Current Public School (LCPS). When she learned of the RDSB’s decision, she immediately called Manitoulin board trustee Larry Killens and visited with LCPS principal Jamie Mohamed to express her displeasure at the news.

“It’s been pretty well documented that children will learn a second language in their early years with a lot more ease,” Ms. Deschenes said. “By Grade 4, their bodies are starting to change, they’re becoming more self-conscious and are going to be more shy about trying to speak another language.”

The mother said her daughter loves French class and comes home speaking fluently, proud of what she’s learning at LCPS, praising her teachers.

According to research, she said, there is a dramatic decrease in students taking French class after Grade 9, the only mandatory grade for the subject in high school.

“Kids are able to discover and enjoy the language more as a child, but by Grade 4 they will lose that,” Ms. Deschenes lamented. “I read that the government wanted 50 percent of students to be bilingual out of school—I can’t see that happening now. Why would they take French programming away at an early age? The government implemented all-day Kindergarten because they saw the benefits. This seems like a complete contradiction.”

She noted that her son is currently taking Ojibwe in his Senior Kindergarten class and that it is obvious that the government has seen the benefit of having Ojibwe taught from an early age, considering the loss of the language due to the history of residential schools and other factors. “So why would they take French away?” she asked. “You think they would have learned from their previous mistakes. I think they’re missing the boat on this.”

Ms. Deschenes shared that she did not take French in public school until she moved to Sudbury in Grade 6. “I was so far behind my classmates I had to stay in at recesses to try to catch up,” she said.

She explained that her husband’s first language is French and that thanks to her mother-in-law, who cares for her youngest son during the day, her son is bilingual. “My son’s in SK and now he won’t have that opportunity and my daughter will miss out on French class next year.”

“The government needs to know that we’re not okay with this,” Ms. Deschenes continued, noting that her next step is to meet with the Parents’ Council and asks that other parents with similar concerns step forward.

“There are no French schools on Manitoulin, we would have to drive to Espanola, and we just can’t do that,” she added.

According to RDSB executive director Norm Blaseg, parents who are interested in French immersion will have to do just that, seek out a different school.

“We look at the need or wants, and we would look at French immersion on the Island, but there are just never the numbers,” Mr. Blaseg said. “At this time that’s not happening.”

“We’ve aligned our curriculum with the ministry (of education) mandate,” he said, noting that this announcement was actually made in December of 2011. “This creates from Grades 1-3 more time for core subjects in numeracy and literacy and more emphasis on physical education.”

Currently, students spend 150 minutes each week learning French, which, come fall, will be spread out among the three aforementioned subjects. The remaining 80 minutes left in the day must be shared among a whole litany of subjects Mr. Blaseg listed off. “It’s a really crowded curriculum,” he replied.

The executive director said that studies have shown that academic outcomes will improve with increased time spent on literacy and mathematics.

The Expositor questioned Mr. Blaseg if this change was in honour of yearly report cards such as EQAO. “It’s all about making students as accomplished as possible in the core subjects as possible.”

“French is optional, but other subjects are not,” he added.

“I’m really disappointed in the government’s decision—this is one of Canada’s official languages,” Larry Killens, RDSB trustee for Manitoulin, said. “They’ve proven that children learn languages better in their primary years.”

“It’s a matter of finances,” he continued. “I’m not happy. This government is not making sense.”