Strong enrolment for early French immersion

Chilliwack's first round of early French immersion registrants came out strong; 42 for kindergarten and 24 for Grade 1.

Parents who pushed for early French immersion in Chilliwack were feeling justified in their advocacy Monday morning.

In a press release, the school district announced it had a whopping 66 registrants; 42 for kindergarten and 24 for Grade 1.

Not so many that a lottery system was required, but enough to prove the program worthy.

“It’s been a long time coming,” said Jocelyn Thomas, president of Chilliwack Parents for Early French Immersion. “I’m happy to see that so many parents have applied for the program, and I was very pleased with the district willing to make room for a second class to accommodate more parents instead of wait listing 20 kids.”

Starting in September, the school district will be offering two full kindergarten classes at 21 students each, and one full Grade 1 class.

It’s been a hard, fought battle.

In late 2011, when a group of parents approached the school board requesting an EFI program for the district, they brought with them 20 letters of support showing the community’s interest. They also started a Facebook group that had over 100 followers in the first week; formed a local chapter of Canadian Parents for French Immersion; and conducted an informal study that indicated more than 70 parents interested in EFI.

The school district also conducted a study that showed overwhelming support – 82 per cent – most of who were Chilliwack parents, in favour.

Yet, last year, in a close 4-3 vote, the program was voted down for the 2014-15 school year citing financial constraints. But, just a few weeks later, that decision was overturned following widespread outcry from the community.

This fall, early French immersion will operate out of Cheam elementary.

The school district had initially planned for one class each of kindergarten and Grade 1, and had suggested a lottery system would be employed if numbers exceeded that. But with the significant turnout of registrations, the district opted to accommodate all parents instead.

“The board is pleased that, as a district, we are able to provide an additional program that will enhance and support student learning and parental choice,” said board chair Walt Krahn.

For Travis Forstbauer, one of the first parents to lead the charge, advocacy for EFI doesn’t stop here.

“We’ve proven there’s a critical mass out there interested in this,” he said. “I’m confident this program will grow as much as the district is willing to let it grow, and hopefully, with these numbers, we can push that agenda.”