French immersion dominates trustee forum discussion

The questions over French and how it is taught in Golden was the main point in the Trustee debate.

Six candidates, each hoping to claim one of three trustee positions at the school board for Electoral Area “A,” debated the issues at the All Candidates Forum put together by the Kicking Horse Country Chamber of Commerce.

After opening comments from the candidates, the floor was open to questions from the audience.

Two key issues were raised.

One audience member questioned what the candidates might do to support students taking a career path in trades, given the “qualified tradespeople deficit” that appears to be on the horizon.

“I think that we are really short changing people who have the knowledge and ability to handle going into all kinds of trades, and we’re forcing them to maintain an academic average,” said candidate Becky Leonty. “We are only addressing a very narrow style of learning. I do think we need to work on trades training.”

Incumbent Shannon Hood agreed that trades is part of the future of our education system, but believes the board has already taken steps in that direction.

“I think this is where a lot of learning is going. We have something called BAA (Board Authority Authorized) courses. They are courses created specifically for our district by the students and teachers,” she said. “If there is a demand for courses in certain trades, they can come and get credit for non-traditional courses.”

The only other incumbent, Rhonda Smith, agreed with her fellow candidates about the importance of trades education, and the willingness to focus on it within the district,.

“I think the trades are really important, and I know we are always celebrating the successes of the students at the high school in the pre-carpentry, auto body and welding courses. And we have had some students coming out of high school with their pre-apprenticeship skills,” said Smith.

“We (the College of the Rockies) do have an excellent program where Grade 12 student’s can do a pre-apprenticeship in their last year of high school and go down to Cranbrook for part of the year and train in a trade,” said candidate Meg Langley, who also an educational advisor and access education instructor with the College of the Rockies. The college is also offering an introduction to trades program, and high school students are encouraged to be involved in that.

Candidate Jane Fearing proposed looking in the possibility of a non-academic track within the high school, like many European nations have.

“I think that there are people who would like to be out of school earlier… I would look into a system where students can make a choice earlier than after they graduate whether they would like to continue in an academic world or take on a trade,” said Fearing, adding that some students as young as 14 or 15 already know that they want to enter a trade.

“It’s not a case of one size fits all. Every student has their strengths and weaknesses, and they should have the opportunity to follow them,” said candidate Andrew Caldwell.

It came as no surprise that the topic of topic of early French immersion was raised by the audience. The candidates were asked whether they would consider re-introducing the program.

“There is a lot of sensitivity to having the whole school district, and the practices in each of the three zones to be, not identical, but similar,” said Smith. “A trustee could start the process where they could ask for a motion to be brought forward to reinstate French immersion starting in Kindergarten. But to be realistic, even if you had the support of the Golden Zone trustees, we are a board of nine people. I don’t see any movement towards early immersion in the other zones at this time.”

Leonty, although an advocate for early French immersion, is very pleased with the program that is starting, which will starts as an oral program in Kindergarten.

“I think it’s going to be alright. I was absolutely stunned that they would take away French immersion… but this program is going to be awesome. I think it will work.,” she said.

Langley was less optimistic about the potential success of the new program.

“I don’t know if it is going to work just fine. Currently the Kindergarten kids have 30 minutes a week of French,” said Langley. Although she is happy that it is a program offered to every student, she is passionate about the benefits of learning a second language young.

“I entered French immersion young, and I feel that being bilingual is one of the best gifts I was given in life,” she said. Langley was disappointed with the manner in which decision was made to abolish the early immersion program. And although reintroducing it would be a big decision, if there is sufficient support it would be reasonable to do so.

“I think most of you know I was involved in the decision with French immersion,” said Hood, who has two children in French immersion. “I love the program, I think it’s fantastic… But I do no support it going back to Kindergarten again, simply because we are not the same district we were 15 years ago. We have lost 462 kids (35 per cent) since the program was implemented.”

Fearing also has children in French immersion, and although she supports second language learning, she would like to explore alternatives to an early immersion program.

“I’m not going to challenge these people without having information myself,” said Fearing. “I think speaking languages is an amazing thing. I would like to look into exchange programs, I would start a play group, I know that there are summer camps available, very good ones. The decision has been made, and I have to believe it is the right decision for now. And if all of a sudden we have an influx of people, we can look at it again.”

Caldwell made it very clear that he would have voted differently on the issue, had he been on the board.

“I did do a lot of research, and I don’t think they arrived at the right solution. There was no coherent reason for the change,” he said. “Having said that, for me to go into the board with the intention of changing back to the previous state without listening to anybody would make me just as bad if not worse as the previous trustees. So for me it would be about listening to what the community wants.”