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.