P.E.I.'s French-language students celebrate school board's 25th anniversary

Hundreds of students from French-language schools gathered en masse Wednesday in Abram Village to mark another milestone in francophone education on P.E.I.

Students from the province's 6 French-language schools gathered in Abram Village on Wednesday

P.E.I. teacher Chuck Chiaisson leads 800 students in song at the 25th anniversary celebrations for the province's French Language School Board. (Brian Higgins/CBC)

Hundreds of students from French-language schools gathered en masse Wednesday in Abram Village to mark another milestone in francophone education on P.E.I.

With faces painted and waving Acadian flags, the students from the province's six French-language schools stood and cheered the 25th anniversary of the French Language School Board.

Later, the students joined together to sing a French-language song specially composed for the occasion by local Acadian musicians. The students hoped to set a Guinness record.

Triumphs and challenges

The day's bonhomie belied the challenges of the past and future for francophones on Prince Edward Island.

"Our student population is more than 800. Twenty-five years ago, when the board was established, that number was about the same," said Anne Bernard-Bourgeois, board superintendent.

Bernard -Bourgeois said that illustrates both the triumph and the challenge of francophone education in the face of an aging population and changing demographics.

"While most school boards see decline, ours has stayed more or less the same," she said.

"Immigration has a lot to do with that. P.E.I. is now home to francophones from all over the world."

'We fought for recognition'

The number of French schools on P.E.I. has also grown. In 1991, the year the board was established, École É​vangéline in Abram-Village was the only French school on the Island. Today there are six: in DeBlois, Abram-Village, Summerside, Charlottetown, Rustico and Souris.

The expansion was made possible by a Supreme Court of Canada decision 16 years ago. That case was brought by Island francophones who wanted a school in Summerside.

Superintendent Anne Bernard-Bourgeois says while most school boards see a decline in enrolment, the French Language School Board sees it stay more or less the same. (CBC)

"We fought for recognition of the rights of francophones to be educated in their own language in their own community," said Bernard-Bourgeois.

"We established that precedent and it has had implications for French-language education right across Canada."

More than just schools

P.E.I.'s French Language School Board employs a staff of 180, with an annual budget of $14 million.

Each of the school locations also includes a francophone day care and a francophone cultural centre. Because of these additional facilities, the federal government — in addition to the province — contributes to the cost of construction.

The challenge for the future is to maintain enrolment as P.E.I.'s population continues to age. Bernard-Beourgois says the board must do a better job of letting Islanders know what French-language schools offer.

"The French language is an asset to any career," she said.

About the Author

Brian Higgins

Brian Higgins began his career as a video-journalist in 1994 in Ontario. Since 2002 he has been based on Prince Edward Island. He holds degrees in journalism and biological science.