Students at Sardis secondary began a petition last week, and with the help of parents have added about 600 signatures. They are hoping to sway the school district as it plans to redefine catchment boundaries in Chilliwack. (Submitted photo)

Boundary changes anger Sardis French students, parents

French immersion culture at Sardis hard to move to G.W. Graham, says student

Hundreds of Chilliwack parents and students are rallying against proposed changes to school district boundaries, following information that came out of grade reconfiguration sub-committee meetings last week.

Parents learned that the Chilliwack school district was altering school boundaries and moving Late French Immersion (LFI) from Sardis secondary to G.W. Graham. Almost instantly, a petition was created by students, imploring district staff to reconsider and look at different options. The petition began in the hallways of Sardis secondary, and over the Thanksgiving weekend parents and students spent their time at a number of school sites, collecting signatures.

By Tuesday, they had gathered at least 600 signatures, created a specific Facebook account for intense discussion, fired off several emails to Chilliwack’s MLAs, school board trustees, and district superintendent Evelyn Novak.

The petition reads, in part: “Many students have established strong relationships with other students and current staff members at Sardis Secondary School, have committed to and enjoy many different school-based activities, find the education styles optimal for themselves, and have ideal ways of transportation to and from Sardis.”

In the end, they hope that the current Grade 10 and 11 LFI students can stay on at Sardis until graduation, with new students being taken in at G.W. Graham over a transition period.

Elysha O’Grady, a Grade 12 LFI student at Sardis, says the boundary changes won’t affect her, as she will graduate this year with what’s called a dual Dogwood. She has been in French immersion since Grade 6, and has plans to be a pediatric dental surgeon, focusing on fixing children’s cleft palates and other dental issues.

She enrolled in LFI because “English was too easy,” she says. Even at that young age, she craved a challenge. And she’s not alone.

“Students who enrol in French immersion are often more high achieving,” she says. That means they prefer advanced placement courses and often push themselves in other areas like sports, as well. In O’Grady’s one class of 22 LFI students, 10 of them are school sport athletes that will be switching from the Falcons to the Grizzlies — a conundrum unto itself.

On a larger scale, there are about 45 LFI students in her grad year, she estimates, and about 60 in line to graduate with dual Dogwoods in 2019. Sardis is potentially going to lose all of those senior students who may be athletes, she says.

There are also issues with trades students whose catchment would be changing from Vedder Middle and Sardis to Graham, she says. Sardis and VMS has a large, built-up trades program, while Graham’s is still growing.

The students have examined the large and small issues of moving LFI from school to school, with the topic taking up much of their classroom time, too. There are logistics to consider like French library materials that have to be moved, students that may have to take the required Français langue première class at Graham half the day and trades or sciences at Sardis for the other half of the day.

As an example of potential issues, she says Graham currently doesn’t provide AP Calculus, a course she needs to get into her planned post-secondary science studies. Some of the students even wonder if the district is trying to phase out French immersion altogether.

“It’s so hard to focus, the teachers are furious, the students are furious, everyone is stressed out,” she says.

O’Grady says the big pushback is from Grade 11 students who had laid plans to take courses and graduate at Sardis.

“From what I understand is they would like the boundary change for them to stop,” she says. “And the boundary change altogether, some of it doesn’t make any sense. A lot of us are very logical people, and we want to know why, if I live five minutes away from Sardis am I’m being thrown into GW?”

Parents have questions for the district, too. Many of them are planning to attend the next school board meeting, on Oct. 17 at 7 p.m. at the School District’s office.

The questions are coming faster than they can be answered, as the district juggles a mountain of changes slated for September 2018. The district needs to tackle constantly increasing enrolment — growing at the rate of adding a small elementary school’s population (about 300) for each of the last few years. They need to reconfigure schools to better deliver the new curriculum rolling out across the province — moving Grade 6 to middle school and Grade 9 to high school. And finally, they are redefining boundaries, in an effort to fit students in the spaces available.

It was bound to put a wrench in many families’ schooling plans.

But by Tuesday evening, at another reconfiguration sub-committee meeting, parents were told that there is still time to decide between three different proposed plans. Several parents who have emailed the district have included this newspaper in their correspondence. Parents of younger students have concerns regarding transportation and safety. Many of the proposed boundaries create longer walks with more crossings at dangerous intersections — an issue that already has many parents at Evans, Promontory and Vedder elementaries parents on edge.

Decisions will have to be made by November, so that the schools can start building and finalizing their courses for next year.

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