When close to 22,000 students headed back to school on Tuesday, classrooms across the Central Okanagan School District were filled with more learners than in previous years as the district continues to be one of the few in the province with increasing numbers.
One program in particular continues to grow and is out-pacing the number of available classroom seats in the district and the Central Okanagan School District is now looking to completely revamp the French Immersion program in the district.
It’s projected about 2,300 students will enter French Immersion programs this year, about 12 per cent of the student population within the Central Okanagan. The majority of those students are in one of the six elementary schools while the district’s lone French Immersion middle school—KLO Middle—was at capacity as of Tuesday with about 480 French Immersion students and 400 students in English programs.
“Attendance in French Immersion is up and we have struggled to keep up with the demand,” said district superintendent Hugh Gloster. “As the elementary schools’ attendance has gone up (in French Immersion) it’s putting a huge amount of pressure on KLO. We are getting the maximum out of our current model but we really do need to look at a different model for French Immersion.”
To deal with the increased numbers in the French Immersion program the school district will embark on a lengthy public consultation program that will bring students, parents, teachers and administrators together to look at how the district can best accommodate students wanting to take French Immersion.
Gloster said the current model can last for two more years but by the start of the 2017 school season, it’s expected the district will have a new program, using input from all stakeholders.
“We know we have a program that is really popular but we’re willing to look at other models and the driver for change is the pressure point with all of the elementary programs flowing into KLO, which has a fixed capacity,” he said.
French Immersion in the Central Okanagan has a long history, dating back to the late 1970s when the program was offered at KSS. By 1993—the earliest records available at the district—there were some 1,640 students enrolled in French Immersion. That number has ebbed and flowed over the years but since a low of 1,484 students were registered in 2003, the number has been steadily climbing to this year’s 2,372 projected students.
This October, the school district will kick off what is expected to be a full year of consultation with stakeholders as it looks to have a new program in place by September 2017.
“The process is going to take us the better part of a year-and-a-half to come to a decision,” said Gloster, who will present the public consultation plan to board members on October 7.” We can go through with the existing program while we design a new one. We’re looking at different models. We may have to make some substantive changes rather than opening a new program here or there.”
Currently there are six elementary schools in the Central Okanagan hosting French Immersion programs: Ecole Belgo Elementary, Ecole Casorso Elementary, Ecole Dorothea Walker Elementary, Ecole George Pringle Elementary, Ecole Glenmore Elementary and Ecole Peter Greer Elementary. KLO Middle School is the only middle school while KSS is the lone high school offering French Immersion.