French immersion shortage sparks parent camp-out in Salmon Arm

Several Salmon Arm parents have taken to camping out for days at the school district education centre, hoping to secure their children a coveted spot in French immersion.

1,000 students are turned away every year in 23 communities around B.C.

Salmon Arm parents have been lining up for days to secure scarce French immersion spots for their children. (Shannon Anamchara)

A group of Salmon Arm parents is in the middle of a three day camp-out outside the school district education centre, hoping to secure a coveted spot for their kids in French immersion.

Shannon Anamchara is one of about a dozen parents lined up since Sunday for registration Wednesday. Anamchara says she's lucky to be pulling day duty — her husband is spending his nights in the line-up. 

"It's very cold and somewhat wet," she said, sitting outside the North Okanagan-Shuswap #83 school district building. "He asked me to air out his sleeping bag today."

Salmon Arm has more than 40 spots for French immersion, but because siblings of existing students get priority there are only 12 openings, available on a first-come, first-served basis.

Despite years of shortages, there is still not enough French immersion space in 23 communities around B.C.,  with about 1,000 students getting turned away each year.

The Ministry of Advanced Education says it is in touch with post-secondary teacher-training schools to identify educational needs and points out that a bursary is available for would-be French instructors.

More French teachers needed

The three-day camp out began Sunday at the North Okanagan-Shuswap District Education Centre. (Shannon Anamchara)
Glyn Lewis, with Canadian Parents for French, says parents should be lobbying their school boards to create more spots and the provincial government could train more teachers to meet the demand.

"We have school districts going to Europe to recruit French immersion teachers," he told CBC News. "The teachers we're graduating aren't meeting the needs of our educational system."

Anamchara says something needs to change.

"This is the public school system and here we are having to stand in line and really it ends up being an elite group of kids who have parents with the capability to camp out for three nights to get them in."

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