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Trustees agree to grandfather late French immersion children

Students from Kathleen McNeely Elementary earned themselves an A+ from trustees at Monday’s school board meeting.

The group of Grade 6 students in the school’s Late French Immersion program, made an impassioned speech, and convinced trustees that they should be grandfathered from a decision to cancel the school’s language immersion program.

“We’re just so proud of our students,” said Richmond school board chair Donna Sargent.

Trustees were faced with two options presented by staff, who wrote in a report that the school’s Late French Immersion program has been struggling to sign up students for years. Only between a half dozen and a dozen students have selected the program at McNeely as their first choice over the past three years, the report by assistant superintendent Lynn Archer said.

“Maintaining an LFI program at McNeely Elementary is not financially sustainable given the average class size of 10 students,” the report said.

Shutting down the program immediately stood to save the district about $100,000.

But Sargent said trustees took the message from students to heart, and opted to keep the upcoming Grade 7 class in place at McNeely, rather than shuffling them over to Mitchell elementary, at No. 5 and Cambie roads.

The prospect of moving to Mitchell for Grade 7, and then relocating once again to another school for high school, was just too much, the students said, according to Sargent.

One parent, who contacted The Review last month but asked that her name not be published, said when she signed up her child, she was told by school officials that the Late French Immersion program would be a five-year commitment.

The prospect of having the rug pulled out from under them was unacceptable, she said.

She also feared that McNeely students would lose some of their confidence if merged with Early French Immersion students from Mitchell, who are at “different levels of their ability.”

“If they didn’t intend to finish it, they shouldn’t have run it,” she said, adding that what was phased-in should be similarly phased-out.

Asked why the Late French Immersion program had difficulty gaining traction at McNeely, Sargent said the decision to sign up for the program is made largely by students, rather than their parents, who call the shots for the Early French Immersion program.

Sargent said it could be a daunting decision for a Grade 5 student to opt to switch gears into the land of the unknown, at a time when they have more extra-curricular options than ever before.

Meanwhile, the popularity of Early French Immersion remains strong district-wide, with a lottery now in place to deal with demand.

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