French Immersion program suspended at BCHS
The French Immersion program at Barrhead Composite High School has been suspended for the 2012-13 school year because of low enrolment.
It means there will be no junior high program for Grades 7 and 8, leaving BES the only French Immersion provider in Barrhead.
The decision has been greeted with dismay by the Canadian Parents for French, Barrhead chapter.
The group wrote to the Barrhead Chamber of Commerce several day ago expressing concern about the future of the program. It also plans to raise the issue with Town and County councils.
CPF believes the suspension could prompt parents to start pulling their children from Barrhead Elementary School’s French Immersion program.
“I fear there could be a mass exodus,” said CPF, Barrhead chapter president Gene Anderson last Wednesday. “Three families have already indicated they will do this.
“The perceived lack of support for the program really bothers some parents. They can’t see any point in continuing to enroll children if the program is not maintained at the higher grade levels.”
Anderson also feared families could be deterred from moving to Barrhead if such a specialty teaching option was no longer available.
This was particularly worrying, he said, at a time when Barrhead hoped the Sturgeon County bitumen refinery project would attract people to the area.
“We just want French Immersion to exist here,” said CPF, Barrhead chapter secretary Tracey Kager. “I feel very strongly about this. Who doesn’t want the best for their kids?”
In a May 22 letter to parents, BCHS principal David Garbutt said the suspension of the Junior High program was based on projected low enrolment for next year.
“Please note that we are committed to reassessing the viability of a French Immersion program on an annual basis,” he said.
He added the Junior High program and its suspension would be discussed at the school council meeting today in the school’s library, starting at 4:45 p.m.
Last Thursday, Garbutt said it was not viable to continue the program with just four Grade 7 students, and seven Grade 8 students.
This was an issue of funding and being fair to all students at BCHS.
“We are a school with limited resources,” he said. “My job is to make sure kids get as good an education as possible. Resources will be focused on where there is need and want.”
CPF, Barrhead chapter, wrote to the chamber of commerce on May 16, asking it to speak to Pembina Hills school board about the impact of closing French Immersion at BCHS.
“The Pembina Hills’ board has made their position clear. Any small class size below a certain point will not fully pay for a teacher, and next year’s French Immersion class in BCHS will not meet their current requirement of 18 students,” the letter said.
“While this position shows that they can follow budgetary guidelines, it shows no foresight to what will happen in the Barrhead region when the only speciality schooling option in BCHS disappears. Should French Immersion cease in BCHS this fall, parents will see the lack of support for the program by the school board and begin to pull their children out in Barrhead Elementary, effectively squeezing the program from the entry and exit points and choking it off completely.”
CPF said parents had already indicated they were willing to move to communities such as Westlock, Morinville or St. Albert.
About 11 students are projected for next year’s BCHS French Immersion program, the letter said.
After that numbers would be back to viability levels. The problem with cutting the 2012/13 program were twofold, the letter added.
Firstly retaining young and mobile teaching staff will become nearly impossible as PHRD will have shown a lack of commitment for the program.
“PHRD has communicated their difficulties in retaining quality teaching staff, especially in French Immersion, yet they demonstrate their lack of necessary commitment to retain these staff members for French Immersion to continue,” the letter said.
Secondly, the letter added, parents would be given more reason to leave the community, taking their tax dollars elsewhere.
“It also gives one more reason for a prospective family to NOT move into the community when they could move 25 minutes down the highway into Westlock to have a schooling option like French Immersion.”
The letter said enrollment in all public school systems had declined over the years, especially in rural areas like Barrhead.
“Keeping residents in the area and paying taxes will only happen if there is a reason to keep them here, and not with just ‘clean country living,’” the letter added.
“Residents want value added services, including educational options for their children. Enticing a young family to stay or move into a community like Barrhead takes all parties in the community to be involved, and the local school board is a big one with a value added service like French Immersion.”
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