Parents face problems finding French immersion school places

West Side resident Miro Jackanin says he had several reasons for wanting to enroll his five-year-old daughter at L’Ecole Bilingue elementary, one of four French immersion–only public schools in Vancouver.

The Czech-born émigré related that he has been living one and a half blocks away from the school for the past 22 years. According to the father of one, it would have been practical for either him or his wife to walk their daughter, Emily Ann, to the school when she started kindergarten this month.

Like many parents, Jackanin wants his daughter to learn French, one of the country’s two official languages. “I arrived when I was 25 years old,” Jackanin told the Georgia Straight. “I had two jobs and I studied for six years. I’m a model immigrant citizen, the same goes for my wife. Now I want the best for my kid, and some bureaucracy problems aren’t helping it.”

According to Jackanin, he couldn’t get a slot for his child at L’Ecole Bilingue. He recounted a conversation he had with the principal: “I told her, ”˜Listen, I know you have kids there from Burnaby, East Vancouver, Richmond, and West Vancouver.’ She said, ”˜No, there is nobody coming from West Vancouver.’ But you admitted that you have kids from Richmond and Burnaby and East Vancouver coming to school. And she said, ”˜Yeah, because when we have a space we have to offer it.’ Unfortunately, there is no space for kindergarten.”

Jackanin also recalled that he was recently interviewed on The Bill Good Show about his problem. The next day, he got a call from a staff member of the Vancouver School Board who offered him a slot in the French kindergarten class at the Lord Strathcona elementary on the city’s East Side.

“I said, ”˜Well, sir, this is how you want to get people out of the car?’ So I’ll be driving my kid to Strathcona, and I’ll be driving back and forth in the morning, and back and forth in the afternoon. Sorry, I cannot take it.”

Jackanin ended up enrolling his child at St. Augustine’s, a private Catholic school located about seven blocks away from his home. His child won’t learn French early, and he’ll have to pay $450 a month for her school fees.

“This is an old problem,” Jackanin said about the difficulties a number of parents encounter in finding French-immersion spaces and French-instruction programs for their children in Vancouver. “Now I’m stuck.”

In February 2007, Vancouver school board trustees approved a report prepared by a task force it struck to come up with recommendations to improve French-language learning in the district.

The report noted that although the VSB had met the rising demand for French-program offerings up to 2003, demand started to exceed capacity starting in 2004.

The report also pointed out that in the long term, the construction of new schools in areas like the International Village, Fraser Lands, and UBC can relieve the pressure in schools with long waiting lists.

Gibsons-based Claudia Ferris, a former member of the Vancouver district parent advisory council, noted that French-instruction programs are so popular that East Side public schools are emptying out as parents move to West Side schools. Furthermore, the French-immersion programs that do exist on the East Side are also well-enrolled.

Ferris, mother of two daughters who were former French-immersion students in Vancouver, pointed out that there’s another side to the rising demand for French instruction in a city that is teeming with new immigrants whose children need to take ESL courses.

“It becomes like a private-school sort of stream where you really have all the active, good fundraising parents and less ESL and special-needs issues because they do sort of weed out the special-needs kids usually in the first two years,” Ferris told the Straight. “It creates like a separate class.”

Still, Ferris stressed that expanding French classes, particularly on the East Side, “regardless of whether you think it’s a good idea or not, it certainly would keep people in their neighbourhood schools a bit more”.

VSB chair Ken Denike told the Straight that the board is opening up more programs. He said the Queen Elizabeth annex will become a French immersion–only school in a couple of years. Denike also noted that French instruction will be available for the kindergarten group at Strathcona elementary starting this September.

“The demand is much greater than supply,” Denike said about the overall situation districtwide.

He disagreed with a suggestion that part of the reason parents are said to be moving their children to the West Side is because this more affluent side of the city offers more French-language instruction.

“It’s easier to get access to French immersion on the East Side than it is on the West Side,” Denike said. “There’s more spaces [on the East Side], given the number of students. The West Side is oversubscribed, so I don’t buy that. They may be wanting to send their kids to the West Side for French immersion, but that’s different from saying there’s not enough capacity on the East Side.”

Vancouver district PAC vice chair Steve Baker’s son completed his kindergarten–to–Grade 7 education through a French program at Hastings elementary on the East Side. Baker recalled that he knows of a family who lives in the catchment area of the school that had to send a son to a school in North Vancouver that offered French instruction.

“We continue to advocate that the program should be available for anybody that’s wanting to have their children in French immersion,” Baker told the Straight.




Jan 1, 2011 at 9:43pm

“It becomes like a private-school sort of stream where you really have all the active, good fundraising parents and less ESL and special-needs issues because they do sort of weed out the special-needs kids usually in the first two years,” Ferris told the Straight. “It creates like a separate class.”

And im sure your daughter/son is high about a esl student or special needs child. Maybe someone like you should be paying an extra $500 per month to a private school so they wont have to be exposed to ESL and special needs children.
weeded out...very poorly put . Shame on you


Feb 27, 2012 at 6:51pm

Most parents know little about what they are choosing. Attrition rates are 50% by gr 8, teachers are difficult to find so those who are hired are there because they speak French not by the quality of their teaching and resources are poor as the publishing market is so small. It is a language program with an emphasis on drilling vocabulary and grammar. It improves around gr 5 if your child has the patience to endure. This is in contrast to the English program which is designed to engage students intellect and curiosity-true enrichment . A English track teacher has many resources to use, is hired because they have skills, and the provincial standards are clear. French immersion does not work for most students and trustees don't have the guts to say no to parents.


Feb 28, 2012 at 1:00pm

All I've ever sensed about French Immersion is 1) that it has snob appeal, partly because as parent Claudia Ferris pointed out so sensitively, it does 'weed out' less desirable students, and 2) because students are 'immersed' in an unfamiliar language in the very important early years, many miss out on critical components of their education, such as learning how to think. The result by grade 8 is a group of students who are incapable of expressing themselves intelligently in either official language. Fortunately, many of them will have pathways into their futures paved with mommy and daddy's gold, so being functionally illiterate won't necessarily be a problem. Kids attending regular public schools receive an excellent education in using the French language- and they know how to think and converse in at least one of our country's official languages. I'll take that over being brought up as a future illiterate snob any day.

Arthur Vandelay

Feb 29, 2012 at 11:55pm

@GOT - its good to see that Rick Santorum is not alone in pointing out the snobbishness of increased knowledge. Thanks so much.


Mar 1, 2012 at 7:57am

@Arthur Vandelay...don't bother thanking me; I was pointing out exactly the opposite - the stratum of society that is so desperate to prove that they are superior that they'll willingly trade a realistic and socially aware education (real increased knowledge) for their kids in exchange for what they imagine to be increased social status. French immersion should be shut down and the schools returned to the general public system - complete with ESL students, special needs students and all the less desirable components that are 'weeded out' for the benefit of social climbers in French immersion. Snobbishness is just one polite word for it. Stuck up, self-satisfied, precious and smug might be also be appropriate, and that's just the parents. One thing these kids don't have is 'increased knowledge', if by that term you mean more knowledge than kids at a regular public school. Most of them don't know much French either at the end of the day. It's a cute little pseudo private school system paid for by taxpayers. Emphasis on 'pseudo'.

reality check

Mar 2, 2012 at 3:23pm

Talk about your First World Problems.
“It becomes like a private-school sort of stream" -- this is very true. Back when VSB still funded such things, I was a staff assistant at a west-side French immersion elementary school which was a holding tank for St. George's applicants. Plus ça change..


Mar 3, 2012 at 3:03am

@GOT - Learning a second language at a young age certainly doesn't harm your ability to learn your native language. If anything, most studies say that it improves your ability to think and communicate in your native tongue. Also, I'm not too sure how students who aren't in French immersion gain more "real knowledge" than student in immersion. I did early immersion in Quebec (as do most english students there), and we learned the exact same things as our confreres in the non-immersion program, except we learned some subjects in french.

I do kind of agree with you about the snobbery aspect though. At least here in Vancouver it does seem like parents enroll their children just due to the "status" that they receive.


Mar 3, 2012 at 2:48pm

@Tom_G...I suspect early immersion in Quebec is a different story altogether, with different motives, from what happens here. There is a definite attitude from the French immersion parents I've met in Vancouver that they didn't want their kids having to put up with ESL learners, disabled learners, socio-economically marginal learners and the other 'difficulties' associated with regular public classrooms (and with real life). That's what I mean by 'real knowledge' or real learning: the opportunities for observation of, learning with and involvement with a socially diverse range of students, resulting in the development of a wider social empathy that contributes to and celebrates everyone's successes. That is, of course, in addition to the normal academic curriculum, which I believe includes French from Grade 5 onwards. French immersion by comparison is little more than a faction of elitist parents hiding behind a facade of wanting their kids to 'learn the other official language'. The concept is laudable, but it's been manipulated into a tool for social climbing amongst the recently 'newly privileged' set (well off, but not wealthy enough to afford private schools), rather than an equal but alternate form of public education. They use the convenient tool of the 'official' French language in Canada to create conditions of exclusiveness for their children, rather than inclusiveness for all children, and for that reason alone French immersion should be reconsidered in terms of being an appropriate teaching/learning environment.


Mar 4, 2012 at 7:44pm

French Immersion was extremely beneficial to me. My parents were immigrants and put me in French school in kindergarden: I learned my native language, then French, THEN English. (And I work as a writer, so it is not as if learning French grammar before English grammar was detrimental in any way). Children who are bilingual at a young age often have more ease learning new languages when they are older. It has been theorized that they do better later in school in general, because of the early heavy workload (compared to regular, English school, where students are not expected to learn a new language at the age of six.) While I agree that French Immersion is not for everyone, and am aware that there is a lack of workers capable to provide French Immersion education, I find that it is a huge tragedy that some people cannot have access to this wonderful resource.

petr aardvark

Mar 5, 2012 at 3:11pm

I live a block away from a popular and highly rated public elementary school (Tyee). Since it is popular our proximity means nothing - there is a lottery system, Our daughter was one of 67 applying for 7 spaces. IN this case living in the catchment didn't apply. (It doesn't have French immersion, though I don't see any snobbishness in the matter - there is value in learning a second language - I myself arrived as a non-english speaker and both my daughters are in French Immersion (grade 1 & K) in another nearby school