French immersion blooms at Elgin Market


With enough students to fill a pair of classrooms in just its second year, Elgin Market’s French immersion program can be considered nothing if not successful.

“We’re not surprised at all,” says principal Anne Roppel. “At our first information meeting (last year) we had a lot of parents interested in the program.”

The first year of the program began in September, 2007. The school had approximately 25 students enrolled and offered a split class of junior and senior kindergarten.

This year, the first group of students are a year older, allowing for a Senior kindergarten and Grade 1 split class. The school also welcomed 22 new Junior Kindergarten students, bringing the program’s total enrollment to 47.

Roppel expects to see consistent growth over the next few years. When the first class graduates from Elgin Market after Grade 3, she says the program will continue at Huron Heights.

“Parents are already looking ahead,” Roppel says. “We’re really excited to see this growing.”

Elgin Market’s program was approved by the Bluewater District School Board in 2007.  The school received funding from the provincial government to set up its classroom. Each year that a new class is established, the school can apply for more funding.

Although the school receives money to set up classrooms and outfit them with tables, chairs and supplies, the staff has faced issues in finding textbooks and core materials. Roppel says French books are often twice as expensive as English-language course material and the waiting list to receive them can be quite long. As a result, much of the material used in class is hand-made by the teachers.

“The program is new,” Roppel says. “The acquisition of materials is very hard. Suppliers take a long time to (deliver the books).”

French Immersion is taught using the standard Ontario curriculum. The students learn the same concepts and skills as other students, but, the instruction is done in French. By the end of the year, classes are taught using 90 per cent French instruction.

“Our kids are so keen (to learn),” says teacher Mary Senese. “They are always excited.”

Like other programs, students tend to succeed better when they work on their skills outside of class. As a second-language course, Senese says it’s important that parents work regularly with their children to maintain their new skills.

Last month, teach Gayle Potter held a parents information night at the school. They discussed the course material and went over the skills that would be taught. Last year’s students performed exceptionally well and Potter says that’s a reflection of the dedication shown by the parents involved.

“Parental involvement is so crucial, more than in regular programs,” she says. “It’s very important to keep this program going. Parents are very dedicated here, they are awesome.”

Roppel, Potter and Senese are sold on the benefits of French Immersion, and say it has a positive effect on other aspects of the student’s learning.

According to information the staff has gathered, students in French Immersion programs have shown improved social skills, self-esteem and stronger language skills than their English-based peers. Students have also scored the same or better on provincial standardized tests in both Grade 3 and Grade 6.

“Students are better at transferring information to different subjects,” Roppel says. “They have a better understanding of other languages.”

Grade 1 French Immersion students Kaitlyn Jackson, left, and Katie Venner read during class last week at Elgin Market Public School

The program’s newest students have been in class for less than a month, but, many can already form sentences and understand a variety of commands. The success of the students has become a source of pride for those involved in the program.

“When you start out at a young age,” Roppel says. ‘There is no limit to how high the students can reach.”

Roppel, Senese and Potter are expecting enrolment to increase again next year. As the only French Immersion program in this catchment area, students from Tiverton and Ripley can also register to attend Elgin Market’s program.

The school will hold its annual registration night for new students Oct. 23. Children born in 2004 or 2005 are eligible for the Kindergarten program. Parents looking for more information can contact the school.

my child is apart of french emerg

My daugher is one child that is so excited about school. she loves being in the french emerg. class with mme potters class she loves how she teaches and is learning very quickly. she even likes trying to teach her little sister to speak french (sister is 17.5mothes)