Parents say more language support needed at P.E.I. French schools
'They all have the right to benefit from resources and support with learning the language'
With more students than ever enrolled at Island French schools, some parents say not enough is being done to support those who are learning French for the first time — and that's having a negative impact in the classroom.
"We as parents, see it everyday. We feel it," said Lucie Charron, vice-president of the École François-Buote parent committee.
Charron said increasingly parents are coming forward to voice concerns about inadequate support for students who don't speak French.
She said in kindergarten and grades 1 and 2 in particular, teachers are being asked to do double duty.
"We are asking our teaching staff to not only teach a curriculum prescribed by the province but we are asking them to teach a number of them a second language at the same time," she said.
"That's virtually impossible to do. It doesn't work, and we're starting to see issues as a result of it."
According to numbers provided by the Department of Education, Early Learning and Culture, 39 of 50 kindergarten students enrolled at École François-Buote are learning French for the first time or have a level of French that requires additional assistance. The numbers are similar Island-wide.
Charron said it's good news that more Island families want their children educated in French but fears without adequate supports for those new to the language, all of the children will be negatively impacted.
"Absolutely, I think it's a great thing that more and more parents are choosing to send their kids here so they benefit from a French education," said Charron.
Support needed for English-speaking students
Christine Dunphy's children attend École François-Buote as well — she's president of the parent committee. She says there should be further investments in additional language learning in the French system, similar to what's been happening in English schools in recent years.
We have children that do not speak French coming into our school but the resources have not been provided by the provincial government.— Christine Dunphy
"You're seeing in the Public Schools Branch a lot of immigrant children coming in and the province has responded by allocating resources as EAL," said Dunphy.
"While we have children that do not speak French coming into our school but the resources have not been provided by the provincial government."
René Hurtubise, director of French innovation, education programs and services with the province, believes the supports currently in place are adequate.
He said what's being offered to students new to French in francophone schools is similar to what's happening at the Public Schools Branch.
"In terms of ratio to students and caseload it is very comparable to francization," said Hurtubise.
"I would say the support we provide to English school is comparable to what we provide in French schools with francization needs."
Supports already in place
He agrees there's a large percentage of students at French schools right now who are just starting to learn French — but says staff and students need to do the best they can with the supports that are in place now.
"It is an extra challenge," said Hurtubise. "But I look at where they are at the end of Grade 12 and what they are able to do, and I take great comfort in how far we can go after 13 years of schooling. Not everything can happen over two months."
He said for students new to French, learning the language is a shared responsibility.
"I think it's for everybody to work together to create a French environment," he said.
"So it's our parent community, it's the school, it's the support services we have for students, it's the department, it's the school board, everybody has to work together and create a French environment."
Parents working together for more supports
The Parents Committee at École François-Buote has started a new Facebook page in the hopes of mobilizing parents from all the Island French schools, to try and get more supports in place for students.
"This message of support being reasonable and adequate simply is not the case," said Charron.
"We are seeing it, we are feeling it, and I strongly encourage the minister and deputy minister to come spend a day in one of our kindergarten classrooms and see what the reality is like."