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Four-day campout for French immersion

Salmon Arm parents camp out to four day ahead to register their children in French immersion class. - Salmon Arm Observer
Salmon Arm parents camp out to four day ahead to register their children in French immersion class.
— image credit: Salmon Arm Observer

It may have been April Fools’ Day, but there was no way some people were going to feel foolish for missing their chance at getting their child a spot in the School District’s French immersion program.

Beginning Sunday morning, approximately 10 people were lined up in the first-come, first-served line for the remaining spaces in the kindergarten and late (Grade 6) immersion programs. It began at 6 a.m. and more people continued to join the line throughout the day. This year’s wait was extensive, nearly four days in duration, as the registration time is not until this morning.

A quick review of Observer files over the last 10 years indicated this is the earliest the waiting game has started. Parents bring lawn chairs, sleeping bags and thermoses of warm drinks to manage the chilly climate, as they sit outside the School District #83’s District Education Centre, just off Okanagan Avenue.

Enderby resident Chantelle Prentice is number seven in line for one of the 17 coveted kindergarten spots, having started her wait at 8:30 a.m. Sunday. By 5:50 a.m. Monday all 17 spaces were filled.

“I’m doing it for my kids. You watch these parents out here in the cold and wet, all out here because they care about their kids, and I can’t imagine a better group of people for my kids to go to school with. I’m here because I want to invest in what’s best for my kids.”

Prentice says that while she was “a bit annoyed” that the lineup started so early, she can’t see a better system.

“I am opposed to a lottery, because it all would have been out of my control. I know it is not easy for everyone to do this. The way I look at it is that I had four years to plan for this, because I knew I wanted French immersion right from when my child was a baby.”

Another parent, Terri Ross, was waiting for the late immersion class, which starts in Grade 6. While she was willing to do this to give her son a greater challenge and learning opportunity, she says the system does discriminate.

“I’m fortunate I can take this time, but not everyone can... In that sense I think a lottery would be more fair, but there’s problems with that too. The only real fair thing would be to open it up to everyone who wanted it, but I realize that is not realistic given funding and teachers and the classrooms.”

As per the rules, parents are also not allowed to take numbers and leave — they must remain in place in the line or fear losing their coveted spot. They also must have members of their direct family wait in line. There’s no relying on friends or even, as one person jokingly suggested, paying an unemployed person to do the waiting for them.

Only 44 children are admitted to the kindergarten program each year, but the number of new registrations drops below this because parents with children already in the French program get priority registration. School District #83 confirmed that for the Sept. 2012 school year, only 17 new spaces would be open in the kindergarten program.

Wendy Woodhurst, director of instruction, says in the past there’s never been enough students registering to even look at adding a third French immersion kindergarten class.  She adds if the wait list was long enough to allow for a second class, it would likely be given consideration by the board. The availability of resources and issues of classroom space would also have to be a part of the discussion.

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