Demand for bilingual schooling grows

Enrolment increases in French and Spanish bilingual programs in the Red Deer Public School District are factoring in some re-jigging of schools and students.

Enrolment increases in French and Spanish bilingual programs in the Red Deer Public School District are factoring in some re-jigging of schools and students.

Bruce Buruma, director of community relations for the district, said more Red Deer parents appear to be realizing the potential benefits of teaching their kids a second language, since both the French immersion and the Spanish bilingual programs are growing.

About 10 per cent of the public district’s students are enrolled in French immersion classes. Since the district’s overall enrolment has grown by about 200 students annually, Buruma said this has meant a yearly increase of about 20 students in the immersion programs at Mountview, Oriole Park, Central and Lindsay Thurber Schools.

Mountview elementary school has particularly felt the space squeeze.

The portable installed a few years ago was recently expanded — Buruma said it now contains four additional classrooms.

The French program’s steady growth has led district administrators to opt to make the new Barrie Wilson public school being built in Timberlands a dual track school for French immersion, as well as English students when it opens next September.

“Students living east of 30th Avenue would go to the Timberlands school,” said Buruma, which should create more space at Mountview.

As for the Spanish bilingual program, he added G.H. Dawe School started with two kindergarten classes last year, and now also has two Spanish Grade 1 classes. If interest in the new program keeps expanding, more grades will be added in future, said Buruma, who noted students in the Spanish bilingual program get about half of their teaching in Spanish, while French immersion students get all of their instruction in French.

“We’ll have to see where it goes. (Student) numbers will have to warrant it. But so far, we’ve seen strong interest.”

Public school administrators have faith the Spanish program will keep growing, since there are plans to move the Spanish bilingual students into Pines School, which now contains Gateway Christian School. The burgeoning Gateway program will, in turn, transfer into the former River Glen School when the building is handed over from the Chinook’s Edge District to the Red Deer public school district.

“The transition will start next year,” said Buruma, who added Chinook’s Edge School Division students are expected to move from River Glen to a new high school in Penhold, which should be completed next September.

Local growth in bilingual education mirrors what’s happening provincially. The Alberta chapter of Canadian Parents for French is celebrating 13 consecutive years of growth for French immersion in the province. According to the chapter, the past year saw the largest enrolment gain since the program was first offered in the 1970s.

More than 38,000 Alberta students were studying in French immersion in 2012-13, a four per cent increase from the previous year.

Red Deer’s Lisa Marie Perkins, national president of Canadian Parents for French, is heartened that more non-French speaking parents are opting to have their children taught French, realizing it’s a valuable asset for their future.

“We’re now starting to see the second generation,” she said, noting the children of former French immersion students are being enrolled in the same program.