Chilliwack school district to analyze French immersion departures

While early French immersion programs numbers are strong, a large number of senior secondary students who entered in Grade 6 aren’t staying

Why are they leaving?

That’s the question school district staff will try to answer in an attempt to better understand French immersion needs in Chilliwack. While the new early French immersion programs numbers are strong, a large number of senior secondary students who entered in Grade 6 aren’t staying in immersion through to graduation.

Assistant superintendent Rohan Arul-pragasam presented a report to the board earlier this year that outlines the dramatic drop in numbers from Grade 6 entry into the immersion program, through to graduation. He was requesting direction in following through on a more in-depth study. It isn’t hard to see the trend as they leave, but Arul-pragasam is more interested in finding out why they’re leaving.

Tracing this year’s graduating class back to Grade 6 enrollment in 2008, there were 88 students. Today, there are 58 students left in that same class. Some of the reasoning may be in location of the programs, Arul-pragasam said.

Forty kids in the 2015 grad class attended Grade 6 classes on the north side (at Little Mountain and Strathcona), and 44 attended Sardis elementary.

The following year, the 88 students dropped by three and Little Mountain lost its LFI class. All the LFI kids moved onto middle school, with a choice between Chilliwack middle on the north side, and Vedder middle on the south side. The majority (51 of the 85) chose Vedder, and the number of LFI students on the north side dropped to 34. As they moved to Grade 8, another five students left the program, two from CMS and three from Vedder. That number stayed steady through Grade 9, when the students on the north side had a very big choice to make.

With no French program at Chilliwack secondary, do they bus to Sardis secondary every day for the next three years, or quit French immersion?

The answer is somewhat in the numbers. In Grade 10, only 66 of that original 2008 class was still enrolling in French immersion.

In Grade 11, that number dropped again, to 61. This year, there are 58 students left, making up two classes in Sardis secondary.

The pattern seems to show that with immersion courses in Chilliwack, it’s all about location.

But Arul-pragasam point that without tracking each student’s path, it’s dangerous to jump to conclusions. There are many other factors at play, some of the trustees noted.

Students may want to stay with their peer groups, or just lose interest in the studies. There are those who moved away, students who struggle with the workload, or entering a trades program, or wanting to try the many elective programs at Chilliwack secondary, trustees suggested.

Still, Arul-pragasam wants to study the trend in-depth, for a few reasons. Years ago, French immersion was offered on the north side. Now that the district offers Early French Immersion, they are projecting the need to grow over the next ten years as those EFI students grow up.

The board agreed the issue needs more in-depth analysis, and are hoping to see another report from staff by this September.