Francophone schools in urban centres face rapid growth

Francophone schools are bursting at the seams in southern New Brunswick even as student populations in other parts of the province are shrinking.

New francophone schools are planned in Fredericton, Moncton and outside Saint John

Francophone schools are bursting at the seams in southern New Brunswick even as student populations in other parts of the province are shrinking 2:12

Francophone schools are bursting at the seams in southern New Brunswick even as student populations in other parts of the province are shrinking.

Education Minister Jody Carr announced the site of a new francophone elementary school on Fredericton’s north side on Tuesday.

It was the third announcement that a francophone school will be built over the next three years in southern New Brunswick.

The other new schools will be built in Moncton and outside of Saint John.

Fredericton’s only francophone elementary school, École des Bâtisseurs, was full three years after it opened in 2007. The school is expanding by about 20 students per year.

Natalie Landry’s son will be starting kindergarten at École des Bâtisseurs in September. She said the growth of the school is likely fueled by the growth in the city’s francophone community.

"So many people from French communities are moving here to Fredericton, the bilingual French community is moving here, so it's growing. And we're kind of losing space at this point," she said.

Another mother said some parents are opting to send their children to the francophone school because of the uncertainty over the French immersion program in the anglophone system.

Tracey Poirier said when the Grade 1 French Immersion entry point was cancelled in the English school system in 2008 it cancelled the debate between her and her francophone husband about where their son would go.

"I think a lot of people who otherwise would have put their kid in immersion decided that they would prefer the francophone school," she said.

There will be seven kindergarten classes in September at the school.

The elementary school will also be moving its Grade 5 students into the secondary school and adding two portable classrooms to catch the overflow.

In 2010, the school’s 26 regular classrooms were all full, so it had to convert a large art room into a classroom and teachers have agreed to combine two classes in it.

The new school on the city’s north side will be open in 2015, according to the provincial government.

That school will hold 570 students.

The new school will include 30 classrooms, a library, a science laboratory, a cafeteria, music and art rooms, multipurpose rooms, space for student services and two gymnasiums.

Immigration also adding students

The chairperson for the Francophone South District Education Council said there are many factors contributing to the school’s rapid growth.

Gilles Boudreau said the province’s shifting demographics and the French immersion policy certainly can be credited for many new students in the province’s three largest cities.

Gilles Boudreau, the chairperson for the Francophone South District Education Council, said there are many factors to explain the rapid growth of francophone schools in southern New Brunswick. (CBC)

But he said that isn’t the only reason.

"The in-migration from northern, rural to urban New Brunswick or urban communities, including Fredericton but also Saint John and Moncton, Dieppe, we're seeing a similar expansion," he said.

"Then we have the newer immigrants coming from outside Canada."

Shuxia Zhang and her son Jing Ti, are from China, they moved to Fredericton seven months ago.

As immigrants with neither French nor English as a first language, they were allowed to choose the school to which they would send their children.

Zhang said they opted to pick École des Bâtisseurs for their son.

"He can learn English from TV, from interaction with other people, so I think maybe it would be OK, he can learn the French and the English, at the same time," she said.

The Department of Education has a policy that outlines the schools where children can enrol.

The official policy states that children can attend a school if they speak the language of that institution, both official languages or neither official language.

The only time a student can enrol in a school without meeting those guidelines is if they are considered an ayant droit.

Ayant droit refers to children who have one parent who was schooled in French and enjoys protection under the constitution's minority language education clause and another parent who does not speak French. The constitution grants those children the right to attend a French school even if they are not fluent.