Solution sought

Dave Mathieson
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Parents want answers to French immersion impasse

Solution sought

AMHERST - The growing popularity of French immersion at Spring Street Academy has created a serious logjam of students trying to find their way into the popular course.
Last night 80 concerned parents converged on the school cafeteria to try to break that logjam
Scott Milner, CCRSB Family of Schools Supervisor, co-ordinated the event trying to find a way out of the impasse.
To get the issued flowing in the right direction he laid five options on the table, some of which were rejected out of hand and others that were given a sympathetic ear.
Those five options were: Maintain the status quo. "You can do that, you can keep things the same, but we have serious over-crowding issues at SSA that are only going to get worse," Milner said.
Right now there are 42 applications for French immersion but only enough space for 28 students.
Further aggravating the problem is the projected growth of the general student body at the School.
"We're supposed to have 450 students here but, right now, we have 533 kids," Milner said. "Our projections show that next year we'll have 556 in and 559 in 2009."
The crowding has forced students into classes on the gymnasium stage, in a converted learning centre and into converted offices and seminar rooms.
"We just don't have any more space," Milner said.
The idea of setting up portable classrooms in the schools playground was rejected out of hand by Milner. "The site SSA was built on was half the size of what is required for this size of a building."
Another option on the table was to move SSA French immersion, grades 4, 5 and 6, to Cumberland North Academy with bussing provided for the students.
This scenario would require the building of portable classrooms.
Another scenario involving CNA, minus the portable classrooms, was to have grades 5 and 6 French immersion bussed from SSA to CAN.
Many parents protested that this option would, among other negatives, divide siblings, provide different qualities of education depending on which school the students attended and create chaos at home as parents try to juggle schedules to try to accommodate the new reality.
Milner said these are all difficulties that can, with time and effort, be overcome.
Two other options that didn't receive as sympathetic an ear were to move SSA French immersion, grades 5 and 6, to either West Highlands or to E.B. Chandler.
Some parents protested the health issues at West Highlands while the need to build portable classrooms for the students at E.B. Chandler isn't the type of French Immersion learning many parents envision for their children when they scuttle them off to school in the morning.
The parents were presented with a paper highlighting the five options plus, at the bottom of the page, asked to write, "Comments, ideas and suggestions.
Despite much dissaproval of the five different scenarios, some parents said it was a step out of the confusion.
One concerned parent who has three kids in French immersion and another one coming said, "There's no sense in beating a dead horse. The bottom line is we have five scenarios. If there's another one we should come up with that, but nobody's going to be happy with the options. This isn't what we want, because we want our kids coming here. My kids can walk to school so I want them coming here, but that's not a scenario. So I just hope we can work with these options and move ahead. We can't go back, let's move forward."
The deadline to submit comments to Scott Milner is Friday, Feb. 29.
All comments will be looked at in preparation for a school board meeting in early March.

Organizations: Street Academy, CNA

Geographic location: AMHERST

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Recent comments

  • brian
    January 18, 2010 - 11:23

    The problem would lessen a lot if the people stopped and wondered why they limiting their kids education with the false god of french immersion.

  • HB
    January 18, 2010 - 11:19

    I don't think the debate here is whether or not FI is a valid program, anyone that has graduated from one (myself) or has a child in FI (again, myself) knows just how valuable it is. Others posting here without first hand knowledge don't really understand it, and therefore fear it for some reason. It's true not every kid will do well in FI, everybody is different (like it or not). We all have different strengths and weaknesses.

    That argument aside, the issue here really is the school board really dropped the ball when tearing down 2 schools to build one in a growing community, and everybody knows it. They may be trying to deflect the blame onto the FI program, but in reality if we didn't have the FI program those kids would be going to school anyway! SSA is a great school, just way too inadequate for our needs here. Any solutions proposed seem to be band-aids. We need an additional school, period - whether that's a dedicated FI school or not. There is definitely a need, simple math will tell you that.

  • Minister of
    January 18, 2010 - 11:19

    Kelly Lamrock of New Brunswick,which is last in Canada on education.
    Only government symbolically declared bilingual province ,and
    is less bilingual now than 40 years ago.

    The province appointed two commissioners to chair the study in July 2007 after results from a 2005 assessment showed the regular French curriculum and immersion French were not producing fluent French speakers.

    The review has been looking at how French is taught in New Brunswick schools.

    Continue Article

    Neither the French immersion program nor the core French program offered in English schools are reaching their goals, Lamrock said.

    Previous studies have shown that approximately 75 per cent of immersion students in New Brunswick drop out, while 99.6 per cent of core French students never hit the government's proficiency requirement.

    Core French is a non-immersion program that makes learning the language a mandatory subject for students in Grade 1 to 10 and an elective subject in their upper high school years.

    I think you've got to look at some things that aren't working, Lamrock said. At the end of the day the one thing that is not negotiable is we're a bilingual province and we need to accelerate and get more kids learning French.

    Although Lamrock said the government won't be bound by the commissioners' 18 recommendations, New Brunswickers should expect at least some changes to French language education by September.

    Really we've been treating it almost like it's a religious option whether or not your kid learns French rather than a curriculum outcome, he said.

  • Joshua
    January 18, 2010 - 11:16

    Why cant SSA have more parts built on as in the school have an extension built on?

  • Also Concerned
    January 18, 2010 - 11:15

    It has been discussed at many meetings in previous years that it would not be wise to move Grades 7 and 8 to the high school, and some consider it wrong to even have Grade 9 in the same building. There is a major divide in the teen years and students in Grade 7 and 8 are not ready to handle day to day life in a high school

    There needs to be a solution soon, they can't turn people away from school altogether so there has to be room by September for them...Hopefully a settlement can be reached here.

  • E
    January 18, 2010 - 11:15

    I also attended the meeting last evening and am a little disappointed with this article. I don't think it accurately reflects the discussions that took place, nor the concerns that were raised by the parents.

    While I agree that there is no use beating a dead horse and we can't go back and change the past, I am not willing to say that moving forward based on what was presented last night is going to work either.

    And I certainly feel the frustration when people say that:

    *There was information available that affected the validity of options being considered to solve the overcrowding problem and this should have been shared sooner than last night. (re: the moratorium). That wasn't very open or transparent and for those us who have attended many H&S Meetings on this, it was quite a shock.

    * The solutions that have been presented by Mr. Milner are still only stop gap solutions and I'm afraid the FI program will always be in a precarious position unless the Board takes a leadership role in solving the overcrowding problem with a long term plan. Right now, there's lots of support for it, but when will people get a little nervous of making a commitment when the Board isn't showing much support?

    While I agree that no solution is going to make everyone happy , I believe that most parents who attended the meeting last night want to find a solution and are willing to work to find it. Dropping new information on us, in the 11th hour, as someone noted above, just doesn't give us lots of time now, does it? And it doesn't feel like they really care.

    I have said, and will state again, that I believe it's important to keep the program intact (for ressource/ support and all the other reasons someone else mentioned earlier).

    And yes, I also believe that it's important to do what's best for ALL students, but I don't think that undermining a program that is still in it's relative infancy will be in the best interest of all .

    In a community like ours, that is so close to N.B., the opportunities that are available to the community (and bilingual individuals like myself), I think the spin offs for supporting this program could be huge. I work in N.B. but come HOME to Amherst, Nova Scotia, where things are just a little bit more quiet and serene. And this is where I spend my money.

    I would just like to believe that the School Board are going to be leaders in this community and do whatever it can to support the FI program as well.

    I'm just not sure, after last night, that they are actually interested in doing that. (Point taken - Snoose! I'm afraid you're right and that a decision has already been made- but I can HOPE!)

    I really would like to believe it when Mr. Milner says, when talking about some of the challenges that we are facing:
    ... these are all difficulties that can, with time and effort, be overcome.

    Give us the time... Show us the effort

  • brian
    January 18, 2010 - 11:13

    lackin life from NS,doesn't appear to get out much,nor noses what to do when faced with government statistical evidence,which can really screw up the people who really havent made the grade into understanding what is written.Which is why your stupid comments mean nothing.Came from nothing. Cause you would think,anyone could understand stats,and stats say going down.
    You are from south mountain eh?

    • julie
      June 26, 2010 - 19:28

      this is all stupid.if a kid cant do english why do people put them in french? thats why the school is over crowding.most of the kids in my daughters class cant even spell the word *the*.my daughter does not want to leave ssa,it seems scary to her.this is all crap.

  • Barbara
    January 18, 2010 - 11:12

    Brian.. from NB... I get the feeling that you do not support French Immersion. Do your children go to any school in Amherst? Do you have any constructive comments to add beyond tearing things down and thinly insulting others?

    Show your firm documents that prove French Immersion tears down and ruins.

    Here's a few facts from Stats Canada. Not all of them are pertanent to Spring Street, though, since the study is a few years old. But, it shows that the program does not ruin, and is in demand. (if the link does not show, just google, French Immersion)

  • Shelley
    January 18, 2010 - 11:11

    I'm a parent of two French Immersion students at SSA. I attended the meeting last night and I am opposed to splitting up the program. Of course, I also recognize that the decision doesn't lie solely with me. That's a personal opinion based on my experience. When I, like other parents of FI students, signed up for the program, I made a long-term commitment. Similarly, I'd like to feel as though the commitment I (and we) made to the program is being supported enthusiastically by the school board and the community. I don't mean to speak on behalf of all parents or even of all parents of FI students, but I do think that at heart, we all want what is best for all of our kids. We want viable long-term solutions to the over-crowding issue. All of the solutions presented last night - and I might add, while they may have been new to some of the meeting attendees, these have been considerations discussed ad nauseum at the Home and School meetings for well over a year and a half - are mere band-aid, short-term options to the problem. So, whether we choose to worship brian's notion of a false god of french immersion or not, I'd simply like to see some open-mindedness and some long-term support that doesn't involve disrupting the integrity of the program or jeopardize our children's safety.

  • Concerned
    January 18, 2010 - 11:11

    provide different qualities of education depending on which school the students attended , I don't get this one! Are they saying that one school provides a better education than another? Common, the education they recieve will be far less if they are in an overcrowded classroom, And what difference does it make if your children attend different schools, would this be any different once one moves on to Jr High or High school? This over crowding is just a fact of life and we as a community have to make a decision. At least the education board is willing to bus the students if needed.

  • brian-get-
    January 18, 2010 - 11:06

    Dear brian with a lower case b:
    Can I suggest that you back away from your computer, put on some pants, give your head a shake, and consider maybe doing something worthwhile today instead of stirring the pot? If you haven't got anything helpful to say or do, might I suggest (like Bambi's mother) that you say nothing at all? Stop clogging up this space with your propaganda and leave some room for folks who want to discuss solutions and move forward - not generate hate and further divide the issue.

  • Another
    January 18, 2010 - 11:06

    Parents at the meeting were upset to learn that:

    -Despite the fact that they've been actively looking for a solution and discussing this for at least 18 months, there has actually been a moratorium in place, and has been for some time, that eliminated many of the options that had been discussed (in what was thought at good faith )
    - The Representatives from the school board did not share this information until last night
    - The solutions that have been presented are still only short term at best and will likely continue to affect the FI program over the next while
    - Any lobbying that might have been undertaken to build support for the program and develop better LONG TERM solutions was not undertaken because all the information had not been presented until the 11th hour
    - The School Board representatives are not demonstrating good leadership by:
    failing to support a long term strategy for the program
    continually repeating that the program is optional
    failing to see the significant benefits to the community to promote a strong, stable FI program that could bring many benefits to the town (i.e.: people who look at Amherst as a safe/ quiet community to live in/ raise their kids in; while creating a workforce that is diverse and able to meet today's (and tomorrow's) challenges
    Treating the concerned parents as problems to manage as opposed to possible partners in finding solutions.

    Perhaps we should be clear in understanding the moratorium and how it severely impacts and limits the viability of options for solving this problem. I see one option being presented in these comments as expansion of the catchment area. This sounds like a workable idea, however, due to the moratorium, it cannot be considered. And this appears to be one of the bigger stumbling blocks at the heart of the matter.
    I hope that Mr. Milner or some other respresentative of the Chignecto Family of Schools will take the opportunity to politely lay ALL of the information on the table once and for all so that we can all be on the same page in terms of coming up with do-able solutions. And soon. As we were reminded last night, time is getting much too short.

  • E
    January 18, 2010 - 11:06

    Well something has to be done and the french immersion program, whether it is good or bad , is almost like a school in itself so it would make sense to find a new location for it. Ideally it would be a new building but realistically any spot that would provide a healthy learning experience would be suitable.

  • Steve
    January 18, 2010 - 10:54

    Why exactly is French immersion this big an issue. We have students graduating from this school system who cannot read or write at an acceptable level, and lets not mention their math skills.

    The North American education system is severely broken. The systems both here and in the US are designed to funnel the masses through and hopefully something rubs off on them.

    The gifted rise to the top with little help from anyone but themselves.

    As far as I'm concerned we all need to reevaluate our priorities. I am deeply concerned that this is contest of class rather than a fight about a fair education for all.

    All IMHO.

  • Snoose
    January 18, 2010 - 10:54

    In response to Concerned Parent fr Amherst . I was reading your post for a second time and I do feel your frustration through your words! It must be exasperating to say the least dealing the monolithic logic of the School Board and the Trustees!!
    Well, unfortunately it's only going to get worse over the next few years as Scott Milner will prove!! I wouldn't want him in charge of my lawn care let alone my children ...but he's got the degree on his wall that says he can,lol.
    I feel sorry for all the FI families that have dedicated themselves to this...but I fear it's going to be a lost cause. You aren't going to be kept 'in the loop' ,ohh they'll pay lip service to you all w/ fancy meetings,update letters etc,but in reality the decisions have already been just don't know it yet =(

  • Catherine
    January 18, 2010 - 10:53

    I think that it would be a shame for children who have been going to Spring Street elementary since it was built, and who have a strong sense of school spirit and pride in their new school, to suddenly get displaced. How about expanding the catchment areas of West Highlands, and Cumberland North Academy for non French Immersion students starting this fall? That would free up space, keeping all of French Imersion under one roof and also displacing no one.

  • Barbara
    January 18, 2010 - 10:53

    As a parent that was at the meeting... what I got from it was that it's a done deal. Part of the French Immersion program will be moved. I think the better option was Cumberland North, but when I asked if CNA or West Highlands wanted the program, I was given a very vague non-answer.

    The options were not rejected outright. Some of the variances involved were, but the options were given consideration. Although, none of the parents wanted to send their kids to a current West Highlands. Mostly, the original options were rejected by the school board itself due to a moratorium on things, making the easiest things null.

    I'm disappointed, but... it's reality. I support Spring Street Academy, and, if the FI program never existed, 90% of the student enrolled in it would be going to SPA anyway... which would still make it overcrowded, and some solution would have to be created. That was another scenario someone brought up, which was also vaguely answered.

    Concerned from Amherst... to answer your question... the comemnt made in this article didn't have the comment before, or after to put it into context. The concern was the books, etc and support staff that goes with French Immersion. The Reading recovery, library books, and resource manuals will have to be broken up amongst two schools. Plus, a lot of the grae 6 & 5 FI students are reading buddies to kids in the lower grades. That will be taken away when the classes are split up.

  • brian
    January 18, 2010 - 10:49

    In NB and all across Canada,immersion is going to be left to the Pentecost.
    The people are tired of its uselessness,cost,and failure,yes even in Quebec.
    As it is I expect Eastern Canada ,never to recover from its damage to the English speaking families.This time too many have adjusted to the western lifestyle and may never return.
    As planned.

  • Sober Thought
    January 18, 2010 - 10:46

    By out right rejecting many of these options many of these parents are just burying their hands in the sand.

    The Facts:

    SSA IS Overcroweded, and will be Overcrowded. That is a fact that won't go away by closing our eyes and stomping our feet.

    Fact: Althought CNA, and West Highlands are not as overcrowded, their classrooms are all used.

    Creepy Thought: Sending grade 5 and 6s to EB Chandler? Hell no.

    The friends of West Highlands School really amplified this problem several years back by fighting to keep their mold infested, aging building, because it brings back fond memories to the committies leaders. Now that we are years away from having a new school, so that will not be the answer.

    So its either porta-learning, or early corruption at EBC Jr. High!

  • brian
    January 18, 2010 - 10:45

    And want to know something else,University degrees are great for blogging,conversing at the trim shop,but waste of time for your kids future.My 14 year old Gran son,earned 4000 dollars in Alberta last summer.Heavy Equipment Operators UNLIMITED,over 100,000 dollars a year.
    Learning nothing in universities anyway ,get out an have a ball.


  • Christina
    January 18, 2010 - 10:44

    I've heard there is lots of room at the high school. If this is true or not, I don't know. Just going by what I've heard. Why not move the grade 8s to the high school and then use E.B. Chandler for grades 6 and 7?

  • Dale
    January 18, 2010 - 10:42

    I hope that the CCRSB does not institute portable classrooms at any school to be used to accommodate students. What usually happens with portable classrooms is they begin as a temporary solution to overcrowding and then quickly become permanent solutions.

    When I was a student I was in portable classrooms myself back in 1993-1994. The classrooms were fairly old and dilapatated and cold. In the year that I attended school in them there were concerns regarding mould and fungus that was growing in the classrooms and hallways because they had leaks in the roofs where they were joined together and because the floors were carpeted. Early in the school year some of my friends and classmates began to experience headaches, nosebleeds and nausea.

    Later that year the school board decided to use us as guinea pigs and spray a mould inhibiting chemical in the classrooms and hallway while we were on Christmas vacation. I do not remember the name of that chemical, but I do remember reading in the memorandum regarding its application that was sent home with us students to our parents that the chemical was never used in Canada before until they decided to test it out on us.

    After the chemical was applied it did not alleviate the mould problems at all. The two worst affected classrooms of the portables were closed up and the teachers and students affected were finally moved in to another building that was part of the main building of the school. That brought some relief to those students that were affected.

    My message to parents is this. Do not let the school board place your children in substandard, cold, dilapidated portable classrooms that could pose serious health effects to your children.

  • S
    January 18, 2010 - 10:40

    As a parent of a child who is about to attend SSA the overcrowding is somewhat of a concern to me. However, I agree that one option would be to move the EB kids to the High School and then maybe move all of FI to EB.........thus creating a totally FI enviornment. West Highlands NEEDS to be replaced as well, the school board did a bad thing when they built a school that wasnt big enough for the growing community and the FI program. Time for the board to work FAST and not make this mistake again.
    The unhealthy , and overcrowded enviornments wouldnt be tolerated by adults in the workplace so why would we subject children to these conditions?

  • nadine
    January 18, 2010 - 10:38

    in September my oldest will bus to jr high for French Immersion, the other 2 younger children i will drive to ssa..i would be willing to send them on a bus to Brookdale if Brook dale had french immersion.. i will have two more boys in my care soon. who will be in english and bused to brookdale as well. so all 5 children going to 3 difrent school is confusing at times.

  • Concerned
    January 18, 2010 - 10:35

    I agree Barbara and thank you for pointing out the rest of the equation with my earlier quote. The article seemed to be one sided. I feel the FI program is a wonderful program that offers our children a brighter FUTURE for career opportunities in both English and French. And Brain being from NB you should see the benefit of being able to fluently speak both of our Nations Languages, and even if our education system is broken, at least with the FI program the opportunities that will be presented to the students after graduation will far surpass that of what is offered to a strictly English student. Unfortunately we cannot fix the curriculum that is being taught, as much as we try to fight for a better education system, we fail, the least we can do as parents is fight for the FI program to work.

  • brian
    January 18, 2010 - 10:32

    Looks like mothers should have no more say in children's education.Mothers make plans for-ever children ,Fathers make plans for their future.
    The firm evidence shows and is documented,french immersion ruins.And even Quebec is returning to English.Fact.
    Immersion has not worked in any country in the WORLD.
    French immersion was not invented for YOU.

  • A shame
    January 18, 2010 - 10:31

    Census 2006 Census: Analysis series Findings

    2006 Census: The Evolving Linguistic Portrait, 2006 Census: Bilingualism
    In Canada, knowledge of French continues increasing in the Anglophone population
    In Canada, the knowledge of French increased between 2001 and 2006 among the Anglophone population (from 9.0% to 9.4%) and the allophone population (from 11.8% to 12.1%).

    Imagine what billions of dollars will do.

    Canada. Percentage of population having knowledge of English and French by 2006 Census Divisions (CDs)
    Bilingualism grew or remained unchanged among Anglophones in every province and territory compared with 2001. In Quebec, nearly seven out of 10 Anglophones (68.9%) reported knowing both English and French in 2006, compared to 66.1% in 2001. In 2006, 7.4% of Anglophones outside Quebec said they could carry on a conversation in both official languages, an increase from 7.1% reported in 2001.

    Even the government statistics bureau,trying hard to spin this total failure.Doesn't even keep up with the cost of being born.
    Its a waste,always was and always will be.Also leaves a damaged kid.
    What else could have made dummies of my 5 bilingual Montreal nieces and nephews,all degrees and rarely working