In September 1975, with the opening of two new Kindergarten classes, Earl Kitchener School became the first Hamilton Board of Education school to offer a French Immersion programme. Today, the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board offers French Immersion at ten Elementary and two Secondary Schools.
In January 1998, the Province of Ontario amalgamated The Board of Education for the City of Hamilton and the Wentworth County Board of Education. Prior to amalgamation, only the Hamilton Board offered an Immersion programme. Now, all Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board students are eligible to register in French Immersion. At present, however, the programme is still offered only at schools located within the pre-amalgamated City of Hamilton boundaries. Transportation to and from French Immersion schools remains the responsibility of students’ parents. The Board does not provide busing for Immersion students.
The Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board offers what is termed an Early Immersion programme; students normally enter French Immersion in Senior Kindergarten. Once in the French track, a student may continue his or her Immersion studies through to the end of Secondary School.
At the Elementary level, all classroom subjects (e.g. Math, Science, Social Studies and Language) are taught exclusively in French. Subjects taught by specialized teachers (Music, Physical Education or Information Skills & Technologies, for example) may or may not be taught in French, depending on the language skills of the individual teacher involved. In Grade Two, English is introduced as a separate subject. The time allotted to daily English instruction gradually increases from Grade Two until Secondary School.
Immersing children in a French environment at an early age takes advantage of their natural ability to almost effortlessly acquire a second language, much as they acquired English at home. Indeed, the rate at which they learn to understand spoken French is amazing, as is the native-like pronunciation they quickly develop. Reading and writing skills take considerably longer to develop, of course, just as in their first language.
Frequently Asked Questions
Who is the programme intended for?
The Immersion programme is intended for children whose first language is not French.
What are the goals of the Immersion programme?
Children in French Immersion are taught the same Provincially-mandated curriculum as children in the English track. Moreover, since the language of instruction is French, it is expected that a student who has continued in the Immersion programme until the end of Secondary School will participate easily in conversations and discussions in French, will be able to take courses at the college or university level in which French is the language of instruction and will be able to accept employment in which French is the working language.
Ontario Ministry of Education documents state that the principal aim of French Immersion programmes is “to provide students with the skills they need to communicate in a second language, and thereby to enhance their ability to perform effectively and meet with success in a rapidly changing global economy…[Immersion programmes] aim as well to provide students with an understanding of the cultures of French-speaking societies by integrating cultural study into daily language instruction.” (The Ontario Curriculum, French as a Second Language, French Immersion Grades 1 – 8, 2001)
What are the benefits of the Immersion programme?
It has been shown that through learning a second language, students can strengthen their first-language skills and enhance their critical and creative thinking abilities; they also tend to become more respectful of and curious about other cultures. For more information, please consult the excellent article on this topic by John Ralston Saul, Four Reasons to Support Children in French Programs.
Since I don’t know much French myself, how will I be able to monitor my child’s progress?
All communication between school and parents takes place in English. Just as for children in the English track, your child’s teacher will communicate with you through report cards, interviews, occasional curriculum information nights, student planners, phone calls etc. Parents are encouraged to discuss their child’s progress at any time with the teacher.
Since I don’t know much French myself, how will I be able to help my child if he or she experiences difficulty with the work?
The Immersion programme is designed for children whose parents do not speak French. There are many ways in which you can foster your child’s academic success which do not depend on your knowledge of the French language. Some of the most effective ways include:
- demonstrating to your child a genuine interest in his or her school activities
- acknowledging and commending his or her successes
- reading to your child in English every day; listening to them read out loud in English and in French
- taking an active role in the life of the school (for example, by volunteering in the classroom, working on Home & School projects, getting involved with the School Council)
- providing additional exposure to French language and culture beyond the classroom
In addition, reviewing and reinforcing skills and concepts at home in English (mathematical concepts, for example) will only contribute to your child’s success at school. Some parents view their child’s enrolment in French Immersion as an opportunity to brush up on their own French skills!
Do children in French Immersion feel isolated from their English track friends?
At a dual track school such as Earl Kitchener, there are abundant opportunities for interaction between English track and French Immersion students. Not only are classes from both tracks combined at recess time, but also school activities such as choir, intramural sports, assemblies, holiday concerts, and extracurricular clubs run by parents or staff members provide opportunities for English and French Immersion students to learn together. Parents of children in both tracks also work together, and learn to appreciate each others’ particular concerns, through School Council, the Home & School Association and annual community events such as our “Fright Night” fundraiser.
What qualifications do French Immersion teachers have?
Like any other teacher hired by the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board, Immersion teachers must be certified to teach in Ontario. Certification requires the successful completion of a one-year Bachelor of Education degree subsequent to a three or four-year university degree. Faculties of education typically require candidates who will specialize in teaching French to have taken a certain number of French courses at university and may also require candidates to pass a test of oral and written proficiency prior to beginning their teacher training. French Immersion teachers are also required to complete at least one Ministry of Education “Additional Qualifications” course in French as a Second Language (FSL). Finally, as part of the selection process, principals assess the French language competence of teachers who have applied for Immersion positions at their schools.
Many Immersion teachers are native speakers of French (Franco-Ontarian, Québecois, or from other French-speaking countries); others have attained native-like fluency, perhaps through several years of study in a French-speaking culture. Over the years in the Immersion programme, your child will be exposed to various French dialects and accents.
Are there any disadvantages to enrolling my child in French Immersion?
Many parents are concerned that their child’s English language skills will suffer as a result of the amount of classroom time devoted to teaching which takes place in French. On the contrary, the consistently observed pattern is that, while English skills may lag somewhat in Elementary grades, French Immersion students equal or surpass the performance of their English-only peers by Middle School. Recent studies undertaken for the Ontario Education Quality and Accountability Office (EQAO) confirm these observations:
Overall, at Grade 3, immersion students did somewhat better than English program students on literacy tests, but the differences were small. At Grade 3, French immersion students who had little exposure to English language arts instruction lagged somewhat behind their English program counterparts. Results for mathematics were virtually identical for immersion and non-immersion students at Grade 3. By Grade 6, French immersion students achieved better overall results on the EQAO reading, writing and mathematics tests.
(Source: Executive Summary, French immersion students’ performance on Grades 3 and 6 provincial tests: Potential impacts on program design, OISE-UT Modern Language Centre, October, 2000)
However, there are other factors you should take into consideration before choosing the Immersion programme for your child:
- if your child demonstrates exceptionalities which qualify him or her for remedial support or for enrichment, the school Learning Resource personnel may not be able to provide it in French. Quite simply, there is a shortage of French-speaking Learning Resource Teachers.
- due to resource limitations, the Board is not able to offer Immersion instruction for exceptional students in special, self-contained classes. If, for example, your child met the Board’s criteria for placement in a special class for gifted students, it would be up to you and your child to decide whether he or she will remain in the Immersion programme or switch to a self-contained English language class for gifted students. This decision is normally made by the end of Grade Four, as the special class gifted programme begins in Grade Five.
- in some cases, if a child experiences significant difficulty in school while enrolled in the Immersion programme, a move to the English track may be considered when it is felt that this will increase a student’s prospects for success. (Often, however, if a child is struggling to develop a skill or understand a concept in French, he or she will experience the same difficulty in English. It is the concept or skill itself which is proving to be a challenge, not the language used to teach it.)
- transportation to and from Immersion schools is not provided by the Board.
- students who do not live in the Earl Kitchener catchment area but who are registered here for French Immersion will not be attending the same school as their neighbourhood friends.
How do I register my child for French Immersion?
Registration for the French Immersion programme takes place at the same time as regular Kindergarten registration. You must register your child at the school which he or she will be attending. For more details, watch for newspaper ads in the Spring, check the Board’s website or call the school office at 905-528-0223.
Canadian Parents for French, National Website
A national network of volunteers dedicated to the promotion and creation of French second language learning opportunities for young Canadians
Links to a wide variety of online resources
French Immersion in the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board
The Board now has a section of its website devoted to French Immersion (since March, 2002)
If you would like to know more about the Immersion programme at Earl Kitchener School, please e-mail the principal, Mary Scime, firstname.lastname@example.org or call the school at 905-528-0223.
For information on Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board policies and initiatives concerning French Immersion, contact Claudette Sims, Ontario Curriculum Consultant, French as a Second Language, email@example.com or 905-304-8722 ext. 272.
Prepared by Steven Nagy, Immersion teacher at Earl Kitchener School. Much of the information on this page was adapted from:
a) a pamphlet for parents published by the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board,
b) the French Immersion Handbook produced by the Central Ontario East FSL Consultants’ Association and
c) Ontario Ministry of Education curriculum documents.
Many thanks to those who commented on the initial drafts of this page.