Jeff Heuchert email@example.com
Approximately 200 elementary students in Stratford – both English stream and French immersion – returned to class on Tuesday at a new school, as program delivery and boundary adjustment changes resulting from last year's accommodation review process took effect.
The most significant, and hotly debated, of the changes is the introduction of French immersion to Anne Hathaway Public school, creating only the second dual track site within the Avon Maitland District School Board along with Bedford Public school.
Based on the board's preliminary enrollment projections, approximately 133 French students were to begin classes at Anne Hathaway this week, while about 144 remained at Bedford. Both schools will operate a full Grade 1-6 program.
To accommodate the shift in students, the board revised the boundaries at three schools, adding approximately 80 English students to Bedford school from what were previously Anne Hathway's and Avon Public school's catchment areas. The board has previously stated Avon will serve as the primary school for the city's growing north end.
Not surprisingly, the board received a number of requests from English stream families for their kids to attend their previous school. Avon Maitland superintendent of education, Mike Ash, says not all of the requests were able to be accommodated in time for September, though the board remains open to border-crossing across the city for its English students only.
The board initiated an accommodation review in late 2011 to better balance enrollment across the city while at the same time finding a suitable solution to accommodate what it anticipates will be a stable, if not increased, French immersion population in Stratford during the years ahead. Trustees ultimately favoured the citizen-led accommodation review committee's recommendation for a second dual track school over the board's preferred option to implement a stand-alone French site at Shakespeare Public school.
Despite voicing concerns at the time about the cost and impact on students and faculty as a result of splitting the French immersion program into two sites, Ash says the board is optimistic heading into the new year.
“We believe that the French immersion program at both sites will be successful,” he adds. “The transition activities that took place this past spring helped students and families prepare for the new location at Anne Hathaway.
“The staff and the community served by Anne Hathaway are eager to welcome these new students and the new program. Board and school staff will continue to work with the school communities to ensure a successful French immersion and English stream program at both Bedford and Anne Hathaway.”
Of particular concern was the potential of the French program disrupting the school's special needs students; Anne Hathaway currently serves students with developmental delays or autistic children, as well as the Section 23 Care and Treatment program for students who need a smaller class ratio.
But new Anne Hathaway principal Sylvia Cattrysse doesn't foresee any issues, noting the board's inclusion model promotes a quality learning environment for every student, no matter their learning or language needs.
“You can meld all three components together,” she says, referencing the school's English, French, and special needs population. “I think it's good for all students to see that. It's also opening up an experience for the French immersion students that Anne Hathaway's English students already had.”
Having previously worked at Bedford, Cattrysse says she has witnessed the power of having French and English students engage on a regular basis, and says she is exciting for a new group of English students to be exposed to the elective program.
Six French teachers from Bedford transitioned over to Anne Hathaway in the move, including Marie-Josée Houle, who spent 12 years at Bedford, starting the year after the school implemented its French immersion program.
Houle says the move has been a great experience so far, noting the Anne Hathaway community has been very supportive and welcoming. Likewise, she adds, having a group of teachers who have worked together in the past made for an easy transition, both for the educators and kids.
“Wherever they decided we were going to go we would make it work, and it will,” she says. “I know it's scary and some of the kids are nervous, but it's nice they are moving with us.”
The French teachers are excited to build the program at a new school, says Grade 3 French teacher Katie D'Hondt, who notes the faculty, as it did over time at Bedford, will work to establish the right balance between running an authentic French-first program while at the same time being inclusive to the school's entire student body.
“We still communicate with the other French immersion teachers at Bedford, and we're going to work closely to ensure our programs are authentic and doing what we set out to do.
“We're feeling very positive about it,” she adds. “We already know we work really well together as a staff, and so it's kind of exciting to bring immersion to another school.”