Ecole Dorothea Walker Elementary school in the Mission. (Contributed)

French Immersion student shift at Ecole KSS upsets parents

School district to get pushback on moving Okanagan Mission Secondary catchment area students out of KSS French Immersion cohort

The administrative headache of resolving an enrolment overcrowding issue for École Kelowna Secondary (KSS) this fall is not getting easier for the Central Okanagan Board of Education.

One of the proposals to relieve that pressure was to move French Immersion (FI) students from the Westside who currently attend KSS to a temporary FI program set at Mount Boucherie Secondary beginning in September 2022, with a permanent solution eyed once a second Westside secondary school is built.

That proposal was discussed by the planning and facilities committee meeting last week, with a final recommendation for the school board bumped back to June.

Another solution is to move FI students within the Okanagan Mission Secondary (OKM) catchment area to that school from KSS, but that now has drawn opposition from affected parents.

A presentation from École Dorothea Walker Elementary FI parents, representing 178 FI students, is on the agenda for Wednesday’s school board meeting, accompanied by a petition signed by 125 students at École KLO Middle School.

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Jennifer Huber, a parent of three FI students at Dorothea Walker school and who will speak at the school board meeting, said she and other parents were caught off-guard by the finality of the FI program shift occurring for the 2021-22 school year.

Huber said a school district survey gauging parent support for a potential FI program at OKM Secondary in late November received a widespread positive response.

“Sure, I said yes to that. We all would love to see an FI program in our catchment area but we answer that question without knowing the details of what that might mean,” Huber said.

She said moving some of the students out of the KSS FI cohort, which numbers about 415 students in total from various feeder schools, to be isolated at OKM, an English program school, without the same library, course options or teaching resources, or the ability to associate daily with other FI students sharing a similar school education experience, would solicit a very different answer.

“We want to avoid the social-emotional impact of tearing kids away from their existing FI cohort,” she said.

Emerson Novakoski, the Grade 9 student at École KLO Middle School who started the petition last week, echoed Huber’s sentiments about the negative impact on FI students who would be relocated to OKM’s unfamiliar surroundings.

“This is a really important lesson for us as students to fight for this because it has brought us all together as (FI) students in a way that shows we have a voice and a say in this,” said Novakoski, saying the critical thinking message taught in the school system, “tells us if we believe in something then we should voice our opinion and have our voice heard.”

Novakoski said the most difficult aspect for FI students moved from KSS to OKM would be the self-support loss among their peer group.

For FI students, Novakoski says the challenges of learning are unique to them compared to English program students, and as such, they often rely on each other during hard and confusing times where their parents can’t always help.

“We have group chats and text each other. We won’t have those same supports if we are split up from our friends and other students to help us when we need it,” she said.

Huber said her group has difficulty understanding why the OKM option is considered when KSS student spaces are filled by international students and others from outside the KSS catchment area.

But in light of KSS’s enrolment issues, Huber said her presentation will suggest an option that sees south Kelowna students currently enrolled in the KLO-KSS school regiment be shifted to a Canyon Falls-OKM pathway, rather than disrupting the existing KSS FI program.

Huber said she understands such a move would likely upset other parents because of busing and geographic issues of being closer to KSS than OKM, but she feels overall that option is “the most logical, fiscally responsible and least disruptive for social-emotional impact on students.”

Wednesday’s school board meeting will be held at 6 p.m. with participation access provided via Zoom.