Top Stories of 2013: Early French immersion becomes a realty

Bringing early French immersion to the Chilliwack school district was akin to a tug-of-war.

Bringing early French immersion to the Chilliwack school district was akin to a tug-of-war.

After two years of heavy advocacy from a group of parents desperately wanting their children to grow up learning French in school, the Chilliwack board of education voted against early French immersion (EFI) in April of this year.

Only to have school trustee Silvia Dyck do a complete about-face less than a month later.

Dyck, who initially voted against the program, suggested the school district free up $600,000 from the reserve to fund the first year of the program – a suggestion that was met with open arms.

EFI was approved in June with only trustee Barry Neufeld in opposition.

Parents were thrilled.

“I’m excited, I’m ecstatic,” said Chilliwack parent Travis Forstbauer, who’s been leading the charge for EFI from the start.

“They wanted our full support. Well, they do have our full support.”

After reviewing several locations, including rebranding A.D. Rundle into a kindergarten to Grade 9 school, or implementing EFI into a school of its own at the old, now vacant, Rosedale elementary site, the district chose Cheam elementary, one of the few elementary schools in the district with available space.

According to Forstbauer, back in June, Cheam was the location of choice for most parents he’d surveyed.

However, months later, some parents began questioning the school district’s decision to locate the program at Cheam elementary. Some were also concerned with Chilliwack middle possibly being slated as the feeder school, criticizing the inner-city location.

“This is a big concern when the bulk of the initial EFI interest was from families in the south side,” wrote one parent on the Parents for Early French Immersion in Chilliwack Facebook group following an information meeting in December.

Forstbauer helped put things into perspective for parents.

“The fact is that we are six months into the planning process of EFI and the district openly admits that there are more things unknown about how this program will evolve,” he wrote on the Facebook page. “As parents of [kindergarten] or Grade 1 students next year, we have a great opportunity to help shape the program and the schools that house this program. If we can show strong enrollment numbers over the first few years, the school board will have to start looking into additional places to house EFI.

“Although Cheam is not the perfect scenario, it’s far better than the alternative,” he wrote.

Registration for EFI starts at 8 a.m. Jan. 8. Applications will be accepted until 4 p.m. Jan. 24.

Students will be selected through a lottery system.

The program officially starts September 2014.

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