In the past year, the Upper Canada District School Board conducted an internal review of the French Immersion programming that it delivers. The English-Public board has the largest school enrolment in Eastern Ontario – excluding Ottawa – and offers Core-French, French-Immersion, and Dual-Track (Core and Immersion) across 78 schools.
The discussion by UCDSB trustees around the board table spoke glowingly of the current programming, deeming no cause for change or improvement. Presented with the option to further review the programming with an outside consultant, the trustees opted for the status quo, which is unfortunate as further review is merited.
Statistics from the UCDSB review showed that nearly half the students who are enroled in French-Immersion in Grade 1 will leave the program by Grade 7. The board faces challenges offering the required credits for secondary students to graduate with the immersion certification on their diploma at smaller secondary schools. While improving, only 20 per cent of students from Grade 1 graduate Grade 12 with the French certificate. That is a low number considering the split between core and immersion enrolments in Grade 1 is about 50/50.
The report stated there is a higher demand for Immersion programming from the eastern half of the school board, which includes SDG Counties, Prescott-Russell, and the City of Cornwall. That demand shows as 17 of the 19 elementary schools in that area offer dual-track core and immersion French programming. It was pointed out that the greatest competition the board has in attracting students is from the French-language school boards with schools nearby. While that is true, the board also faces competition for students, from itself.
Only two schools in the eastern half the board, Morrisburg Public and Maxville Public, do not offer immersion. The argument from the board has been that nearby schools offer immersion and can handle the student need. Programming does not need to be expanded to more schools. For some families, that may be okay – but it is not for all.
Families have the ability to shop around for public education. They have the choice of English or French, Public or Catholic. Those same families, especially in this area, want the option for French Immersion. In the two communities without a UCDSB immersion program, there are other options parents can go to – some do. Transporting students across traditional school boundaries, as the UCDSB often does for its immersion program – cannibalizes one school to support another. All the while also adding additional costs to transportation. Not all families want their children on a school bus for part of the day. Choices are made, and another school board is chosen. Parents have the right to choose what they feel is the best school programming for their family.
The argument has been made by families for years for introducing French Immersion into the two remaining UCDSB elementary schools that do not currently offer it. The report from the board last month is good argument to convert those two schools as well.