SCHOOL DISTRICT BRIEF: Bridging the French and English divide

Deciding whether or not to put your child into French immersion can mean more than students learning another language. As students from Pemberton's Signal Hill Elementary School told Sea to Sky school board trustees on May 8, being in French or English courses can change a student's social school experience from their friendships to racist encounters.

In the past year, Signal Hills students had more collaboration between English and French students. The Grade 7 students shared their experiences of sharing classrooms with their new peers.

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One of the students, Grace, said "being in our mixed groups, we get to be around lots of different students who have unique background and interests and abilities. This is helping us be better people. It is helping us prepare for our future because we will keep going to school and working with lots of different types of people for the rest of our lives."

Another, Lily, said, "I feel like I am getting my friend back."

Before, students said there have been stereotypes between the language programs with the assumption that English students are not as smart. Stereotypes became racist, as students pointed out most French students are white. One of the French students, who is half Indigenous and half white, said she thinks First Nations students aren't in French immersion as much because some are trying to learn and preserve their ancestral languages. She added that having the option to learn English, French and Ucwalmicwts would help students who don't want to choose.

Mixing the students, the presentation concluded, can help breakdown stereotypes, make students feel safe and respected and extend their social circles.

"Until I heard from those kids from Signal Hill, I don't think I understood the extent of the issue. But when these kids described their best friends and overnight they're not talking to them anymore, it ruptured an important relationship in their lives," board chair Rick Price said, adding he encourages schools to collaborate more.

Some trustees asked if there were concerns that the combination would water down the French immersion programs, but the classes include both English and French students are already taught in English.

Currently, the graduating year of secondary students have blended elective classes, while all secondary schools will share career life curriculum. All schools have buddy class times, and encourage extracurriculars, school events, sports teams and shared field trips as well as peer French tutoring.

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