EFI For Life

Last night I attended a meeting for the heads of all the PTAs for all the schools in our district. Our School Board Rep has this meeting every couple of months so she can tell us what’s going on. The Chair of my PTA couldn’t make it, and asked if I would go instead (I am being GROOMED, people!).

I thought it would be very boring, but I was pleasantly surprised. There were squares! And cookies! And coffee!

That School Board really knows how to throw a meeting, I tell you.

Anyway, I learned all kinds of useful stuff and got all kinds of good PTA type ideas, and in general it was very interesting and useful.

The most interesting thing, for me, was a discussion of Early French Immersion, which is FI that starts in Senior Kindergarten. Apparently there is a 60% drop out rate for the program over its lifetime (i.e. between grades SK and 8, 60% of the original SK class will have dropped out of French Immersion). Scary!

The Board is trying to introduce new initiatives to keep kids who start FI in the FI program. Their biggest concern — as I’ve mentioned here before — is that as soon as a kid starts having trouble in school, the school recommends that they leave FI and move to the English stream. This is rarely a solution, as kids that leave FI in grades 2, 3, or 4 might be as much as two years behind their counterparts in English reading and math. So rather than improve their school performance, it might actually hinder it further.

The real problem is that there is no remedial help available in most schools for French students. So if a student is struggling, they have no resources and no tutors to help them out. They can only get this kind of help if they move to the English stream…or, if their parents are French speaking and can provide the help they need.

Eeep. Totally not what I needed to hear right now, when we are already feeling like our French skills will not be enough to see us all the way through to Grade 8. Chantal, I may be over at your house A LOT.

Anyway, it’s a very tough line for the schools to walk right now. The Board wants them to let parents know that when they choose FI, they will be STAYING in FI, no matter what. At the same time, they want to increase their FI numbers, so they want schools to assure parents that FI is suitable for any and all kids, no matter what their language background or current abilities. I think it’s really hard for a school to sell, sell, sell FI, and then tell any kids that chose FI who don’t like it that tough, they are stuck now.

My own school actually kind of tried to discourage parents from choosing FI. They did make it clear that switching streams later would be very hard and not good for your kid, so they wanted everyone who chose FI to be fully committed. They didn’t want any wafflers. I think that’s a good way to do it, but our Board rep would be quite unhappy if she heard that our school was warning parents away FI if they had any doubts at all. It doesn’t exactly fit with their “welcome all comers” policy.

Anyway, it was an interesting discussion, so thought I’d pass that info along.

Now, don’t get me started on all-day JK and SK in 2010…GACK.

5 thoughts on “EFI For Life

  1. My principle told last week that 2010 for all day wasn’t going to happen. Too soon he said. Did they talk about it at the meeting??? Enquiring mind wand to know (well just mine).

    I agree about the lack of help for FI. I know so many parents who have been discouraged (including myself, repeatedly). I firmly believe that if I didn’t have a strong background in french D would be in English right now. Not just because I can help him but also because French doesn’t intimidate me. I think it is a shame that so far FI is only the domain of already strong students. If you struggle then you have to step aside. No bilingual opportunities for you! I am glad to hear they may be addressing this issue.

  2. smokingtoaster

    We don’t have FI here, but apparently our school district does have Spanish Immersion in three of its elementary schools. I don’t think it’s a very popular program. One reason might be that I think it’s offered at some elementary schools that are in, shall we say, less-than-upscale neighbourhoods and with less-than-stellar rankings (all schools here are ranked based on standardized tests).

    Just today a mom in my local mom’s group sent an email saying that her kindergarten daughter was thriving in it and she highly recommended it. Also, apparently a lot of parents in the area are not even aware of it. Furthermore, class sizes are kept small, which is important when we’re facing huge education budget cuts here that are probably going to raise kinder class sizes from 20 to 30.

    I have to say that while it sounds good in principle, the fact that neither of us know any Spanish makes it a pretty scary idea. And what happens if your kid “flunks” out? Do they then have to attend the English program at that school, or can they come back to their home school? I probably shouldn’t be worrying about this, but Sept 2011 is not really that far away!

  3. So am I reading this right … that the high dropout rate is really a high *kickout* rate? That seems strangely brutal, and counter to the spirit of the program.

  4. Sinnick — That’s the Board’s thinking, and they seem to have some evidence that certain schools bump kids from FI once they are getting a C average or lower. Yikes. I’m not sure the schools would agree with that version of the truth, though.

    SmokingToaster — It is scary to have your kid taking school in a different language! We’re scared, too, but we have faith that it will turn out well in the end. It’ll be very interesting for me to ask my kids what they thought of FI once they reach adulthood. Here, if your kid decides to leave FI they are returned to their “home” school, so it might be a change of teachers and friends as well as a change of program. Luckily our school is half FI and half English stream so if worst came to worst, we know we’d at least stay at the same school.

    Chantal — We did talk a bit about the all day JK/SK thing. My trustee warned anyone who didn’t like the idea (i.e. me!) that it was going to happen so we might as well run with it. Word on the street is that we will have until 2013 to figure it all out though — that’s just a rumour right now, but they hope it is true since no one is remotely ready to make it happen for 2010. Probably what will happen is that JKs will get pulled from the overcrowded schools and either bused to one of the four under-enrolled schools in our area, or moved into rental space (apparently they already do this in the North Kanata Research Park for JKs from the Morgan Grant’s area). Kind of ugly, but I guess it’ll work.

  5. We visited like five schools for The Boy before he started. (We qualify for all the boards.) He’s now in a private school specifically because they offered support if he needed it. (It’s a parallel stream, half day French/ half day English.) There were a number of considerations — but full day JK and SK was certainly one of them. Seems the routine is harsh on the kids.

    On EFI, I think the program is flawed. Very flawed. There needs to be support for both the students and the parents. My BiL pulled his daughter out of the FI stream because they (the parents) couldn’t do her homework and they couldn’t understand. But if it reassures the parents to get stuff send to them in English as well, then why not provide it? (She’s in Grade 4, I reckon that she should be doing her own homework at that stage. That is another story.)

    Then even if the kids do well, and want to switch to a French stream (for instance to go a school like The Boy’s.) They don’t have strong enough French skills to follow the class nor did they have the oral skills to participate. So they’re effed on all fronts.

    I wonder if subconsciously we are setting the kids up to fail…

Comments are closed.