French Immersion program in Nelson accepting applications

The Kootenay Lake School District is preparing for the intake of French Immersion students for next school year. - Bob Hall photo
The Kootenay Lake School District is preparing for the intake of French Immersion students for next school year.
— image credit: Bob Hall photo

Families with students entering Grade 6 this fall are now being asked to consider whether the late French immersion program will be their route of study.

Offered at Trafalgar for Grades 6 to 8 and continuing at L.V. Rogers for Grades 9 to 12, the program aims to immerse students in French to teach much of the curriculum.

Kootenay Lake school district innovative services director Andy Leathwood says this is an opportunity to learn a second language while studying in that language.

“It’s great for our students’ learning,” he says. “There is a lot of research that shows language enhances your learning in other subjects.”

Opportunities aren’t limited to the classroom. Cultural experience includes the potential for students to do exchanges — in the past done with study taking place in Quebec. This year, Leathwood says they’re exploring student travel to Bordeaux.

A popular program in this school district, the director can see why parents and students choose to take advantage of the option to study in another language.

“Parents see this opportunity to enhance what goes on in their children’s education. All of the kids in all of our programs get an excellent education, but I think there are many parents who see involvement in French immersion as an enhancement,” he says.

Nelson is the only community in the Kootenay Lake school district that offers French immersion. The district has set a limit of 60 students for the program based on its budgeted allowance for the program.

Most years, this 60-student limit isn’t an issue. In the 2011-12 school year, 57 students were enrolled.

“Most people who apply get in,” Leathwood says.

But, there has been an issue in the past when this wasn’t the case. In the 2010-11 school year, 30 more students applied to French immersion than the program could hold, causing a great deal of upheaval among parents as the school district turned many away.

“There were way more applicants than spaces,” says Leathwood. “We had to find a way, as best we could, to limit it to 60.”

Using a first-come-first-served model — with applications being date and time stamped after the application period opened — upset those who felt they were at a disadvantage.

“There was a lot of dissatisfaction around that process,” he says. “There were all kinds of issues around getting the applications in a way that was fair to everybody.”

Since that year, changes have been made regarding information dissemination and the application process based on parental feedback.

Information notices are now sent to Grade 5 parents and students earlier — the beginning of January instead of February — giving them more time to digest the information before applications are accepted.

The parent information meeting is also now held earlier, prior to the application opening date instead of a couple days after applications start being accepted. This is a good opportunity to determine if French immersion is, in fact, a good fit for the student and family, says Leathwood.

“People actually have an opportunity to come to the information meeting to

decide, and then they have two weeks to get their application in,” he says. “It will give parents an idea of what the program is really about; what the demands are… there are some people who might realize this isn’t the right fit for their kid. It’s better to know ahead of time.”

The district also looked at how applicants are admitted based on extensive research throughout the province. The provincial standard was adopted.

“The fairest way to do it if we get more than 60 applicants is a lottery,” he says. “Some people were happy with that. Some people weren’t. What I found through this whole thing is we heard every possibility and it’s really impossible to please everybody.”

Leathwood believes the process is a good one and each successive year fine tuning still takes place.

The French immersion meeting will be held January 30 at 7 p.m. at the Kootenay Lake board office at 570 Johnstone Road. For those unable to attend at this time, up-to-date information will be available at after February 1. Applications will be accepted starting at 9 a.m. on February 15 until 3 p.m. on March 28 through email at, fax at 250-352-6686 or in person at the board office. A lottery will be held on April 5 to establish a waitlist if necessary.











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