Report identifies importance of French immersion; more funding needed

Tina Comeau
Published on January 28, 2014

Trevor Cunningham, director of programming and student service for the Tri-County Regional School Board, and consultant Jim Gunn presented a report on the sustainability of French immersion at the Jan. 21 board meeting. TINA COMEAU PHOTO

By Tina Comeau



Even though some of the classes are very small, many are multi-grade combinations and enrolment in the overall education system continues to decline, a sustainability report prepared for the Tri-County Regional School Board is not recommending a gutting or discontinuation of French immersion programming.

In fact, the report studying the delivery of enhanced French programming recommends that French immersion “be acknowledged as a program that requires additional funding because of the dominance of the French language and the Acadian culture in many communities served by the TCRSB.”

The report was prepared by consultant Jim Gunn, at a cost of $2,500, and will be the subject of public consultation.

The meeting dates are:

• Wednesday, Feb. 5, Digby Regional High School, 7 p.m.;

• Monday, Feb. 10, Yarmouth Consolidated Memorial High School, 7 p.m.

• Wednesday, Feb. 19, Barrington Municipal High School, 7 p.m.

The report is available on the board’s website.

Gunn, who presented the report to the school board on Jan. 21, said the conclusions were unexpected. He expected to see that the French immersion program was having an impact on the English program by diverting students and resources away from it. But this isn’t the case, he said.

He said some of the risks concerning the sustainability of the French immersion program, such as three grade levels in one classroom, is also true of the English program.

“The risks are not greater or different than trying to deliver the English program,” said Gunn. “Every thing is squeezed so tight now in the limited resources . . . (and) the split grades, they’re everywhere.”

He also said discontinuing the program in some of the schools it is offered in wouldn’t save the board any money.

School board member Ron Hines said he was very pleased with the report’s conclusions.

“Many of the things I read there I’ve been saying for 15 years, so it was good to be vindicated,” said Hines, saying he’s always stressed the need for French immersion funding, given the culture of the area.

“I was afraid that the program would be gutted. I can see that it’s not going to be gutted and I’m very happy. This program is so essential to this area of the province that we should be getting special funding for it,” he said.

In the Tri-County Regional School Board, 1,095 students are enrolled in French immersion. In Yarmouth County it’s offered at the Yarmouth high school, Plymouth, Maple Grove, Meadowfields, Drumlin and Central schools.

It’s also offered at Barrington Municipal High School, Digby Regional High School, Digby Elementary and Weymouth school and in some grade levels and to different extents at St. Mary’s Bay Academy and Shelburne Regional High School.

Based on declining enrolment, the projections for some programs by the 2018-2019 school year see class sizes of 10 or less per grade level in some schools. Plymouth is projected to be the lowest with just over three students per grade level. But with Plymouth possibly taking in students from Arcadia School when that school closes in the future, the report says any decision on the sustainability of the program at Plymouth shouldn’t take place until it’s known what student numbers at the school will be in the future.

It was also noted in the report that there are some schools that offer French immersion programming but there is no option for students to continue with this education once they move into the junior or senior high grades of their feeder schools because the programming doesn’t exist. Does it make sense to offer program at junior high but not give students the option of continuing with it at senior high? An answer is something the board will be seeking during public feedback.


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