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Shining a spotlight on French Immersion education

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While both English and French have both been the official languages of Canada since 1969, when the  official Languages Act was signed, French Immersion education had first emerged years prior to that when Quebec Anglophones wanted to ensure that their children would be bilingual enough to get along in
the French-dominant society. 
Since then, French Immersion programs have spread across every province and territory, with demand often exceeding the supply of adequately qualified teachers. The Swan Valley is certainly in that position,
with 71 students currently enrolled in the local French Immersion that starts in Kindergarten at the ÉSRSS and is available all the way up to a full Grade 12 French Immersion Diploma or Certificate through the SVRSS and French Consortium.
“We are excited to hear that all nine of the Grade 8 students leaving ÉSRSS plan to continue with French Immersion into the high school,” said Canadian Parents for French (CPF) Swan River Chapter Vice-President Amanda Bulycz. “Although our numbers continue to increase, we have not seen more than
10 students at one time pursue their Diploma or Certificate. We look forward to changing that as we bring more awareness to the benefits of the French Immersion program and the opportunities it can offer students.
“Last year, we were excited to have two students graduate with their French Immersion Diploma and five students with their Certificate. CPF Swan River was excited to support two bursaries in 2020 totalling $1,000.”
The Swan Valley  School Division has had French Immersion programming since 1982 and had its first student graduate with the French Immersion Diploma in 2016. Bulycz outlined several benefits to becoming bilingual.
“Being bilingual increases your opportunities when searching for a job,” she said. “There are many positions available for those who can speak both French and English, such as government positions,
translation services, customer service and much more. “Being bilingual opens the opportunity to work in French-speaking parts of Canada and the world. Speaking French and English gives you the freedom to
work anywhere in Canada. Some employers may even consider a higher wage for those who are bilingual.
“Being bilingual helps expand not only your professional life, but your personal life as well,” Bulycz continued. “You will be able to build relationships and make connections with other French speaking people, expanding your personal circle. Being bilingual may also assist you with travelling and break any
language barriers, especially when travelling across Canada.”
Bulycz also noted that French Immersion is simply another stream of education, accessible to all students. She encourages all who are considering the French Immersion program to get in touch with CPF
Swan River and the ÉSRSS French Immersion staff to find out more about the program and how it could benefit their child.
“It is important to note that I do not personally speak French, nor does my husband, and we decided to give French Immersion a try with our oldest daughter and look forward to our younger children in the
future,” said Bulycz.
“Our teachers are extremely helpful with sending resources home and are understanding and patient with helping each student thrive within the program.” English-speaking parents also should show no concern that the English- speaking skills of their children may be stunted if they are enrolled in French Immersion
education. “Knowing a second language can actually assist and benefit your first language,” said Bulycz.
“Some studies suggest that French Immersion students’ language skills are improved because they spend a fair time learning both languages as opposed to focusing on one. “In addition, those in French  Immersion exceed in writing and reading in English, even though they may have begun with French
first.”
Bulycz also added that many of these benefits can still apply, even if students don’t take all 13 years of public schooling in French Immersion and end with a Diploma or Certificate.
“Students are welcome to the program at any grade,” she said. “We do caution that if they are entering the program as a second language in a later grade, it would be in the student’s best interests to meet with French Immersion program representatives to determine if it will be a successful fit for their continued education.
“Our smaller class sizes are also a huge asset as teachers and EAs have the opportunity to work with
smaller groups or individually with students as they need.” One of the challenges of running a successful
French Immersion program in a small community is professional recruitment.
“Certified French Immersion teachers are limited against huge demand as we see French Immersion programming steadily increase throughout the country,” said CPF Swan River President Lynda Parsons. “Our program has adapted well with the support of ÉSRSS and we are lucky to have a high quality and dedicated staff delivering our programs. “In an effort to recruit additional French Immersion  professionals, we are currently collaborating with the Université du St. Boniface to have student teachers join us for the 2021-22 school year.”
Parsons also noted that she would like to see more students pursue their French Immersion Diploma.
“SVRSS offers a sizeable list of French language- based courses, but it is not always possible at this time for students to pursue all of their interests or required courses in French through SVRSS,” she said. “As with all programming, although the desire is there to create these opportunities within the education
curriculum, a lack of resources – both funds and professional recruitment – often creates obstacles that are not easily overcome.”
Parsons added that it is difficult to see how the French Immersion program could improve or what it will look like in the future with Bill 64 sitting on the table in the provincial legislature. “The longevity and
success of the program is very much attributed to the parents who fought to introduce it to our community and continue to volunteer today, the ongoing collaboration of locally elected school trustees, and the principals and teachers that work hard every day to put our children first,” she said. “This bill is going to take away our voice and our right to determine what is best for our students and program, removing the opportunities we have been able to create within our own community. “As the Progressive 
Conservatives continue the slow drain of services, jobs and resources of rural Manitoba, maintaining or improving our programming will be an undetermined challenge.” Expect CPF Swan River Chapter to launch their Facebook page on Friday (May 14) during French Immersion Awareness Week, which they declared from May 10-16. 
The current CPF Swan River Chapter Executive consists of President Lynda Parsons, Vice-President Amanda Bulycz, Treasurer Tanya Torfason and Secretary Melissa Buchanan.

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Jeremy Bergen
REPORTER
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