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French immersion registration campout frustrates parent


Eight children eager to get into Squamish's only elementary level French immersion program are holding onto hope despite little encouragement from school officials.

For the first time in five years, too few students have signed up to fill two classes in the Mamquam Elementary French immersion program, so only 32 kids will get in, leaving eight on a waiting list. And at least one parent is fighting for change.

"Why is it that enrolment in Squamish is going down when in the rest of the province is on the rise?" asked Kelvin Mooney, who has a son in the program and a daughter on the waiting list. "We're supposed to be moving forward with people moving here, with better education.

We're having a university coming to town and here we are not taking advantage of something like French immersion."

Every year Mamquam Elementary School offers 60 spots for two Grade 5 French immersion classes, and every year parents camp out the night before registration day to assure that their child has a spot in the program. Mooney says this notoriously difficult and competitive registration system is the reason parents are abandoning the program.

He refused to camp out overnight to sign his child up for a public school, but he's adamant that the program offers a better education than other public schools, and he won't allow his daughter to get bumped.

"I've got a nine-year-old daughter who does very well in school, who's very motivated, her brother's in French immersion and to say 'Sorry kiddo, you don't get to go in because your dad didn't camp out all night'.

"In the public school system, I just think that there has to be a better way."

Mamquam principal Jeff Larcombe disagrees that the school's French immersion program offers a better education than other district public schools, stating simply that the program offers excellent opportunities for students interested in acquiring a second language.

But he acknowledges that its registration system has been under debate more than once over its 19 years. Parents have considered a lottery system and a guaranteed entry to siblings, but have always said: "We don't like what we've got, but the others are even worse," he said.

Larcombe has nonetheless come up with an alternative system, which he will be presenting to school district officials in April. He said if the proposal is approved, he'll bring it to interested parents for a vote.

"It is important to know that none of these are systems that make everybody happy. So what we're trying to do is refine a little bit more," he said. "It might be able to alleviate one or two of the problems that we're running into here."

Mooney wants to get the word out to parents who may have been discouraged that if 25 more names are added to the list, the school will open another class.

Larcombe confirmed that another class would open if the kids came forward. However plenty of advertising was done in the month following up the Feb. 14 registration date and "unless something of a more dramatic nature takes place I doubt very much that we would get the numbers that we require to open a second class."

But Mooney says he won't give up.

"I want to try and find a solution to it. There's still time here, it's only March."