Sandy Hill Elementary School in Abbotsford. Photo courtesy Abbotsford School District

Teacher shortage leaves B.C. French immersion class learning in English

Concerned parents seek to speak to school board, advocate for solutions for teacher shortage

A group of Abbotsford parents is calling for change from the school district and provincial government as their French immersion children are being taught in English due to a lack of teachers.

Darcy Hanover’s Grade 4 daughter is enrolled in French immersion at Sandy Hill Elementary School, but the teacher has left to accept a job offer in Chilliwack, where she lives.

“We’re having no luck finding replacements, so currently our children are being taught in English, which is not what we signed up for when we’re French immersion,” Hanover said.

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As the province and B.C. Teachers’ Federation gear up for collective agreement negotiations, Hanover said she hopes to see the school board advocate for better pay for teachers, with few provinces paying teachers less than B.C.

But school board chair Shirley Wilson said the board typically hasn’t sent letters to advocate issues to the B.C. government

“They could, but we’ve not typically done that ever in the past, because that’s only one of our employee groups. We have several employee groups,” Wilson said.

RELATED: Abbotsford schools short 54 teachers, including 23 full-time

Hanover and nine other parents from the class are hoping to speak as a delegation at the next school board meeting on Nov. 13 to bring the issue to the school board.

“We’re just a group of concerned parents who are trying to find any way to save this school year for our children, because the message we’re getting form the leadership is that ‘take what you’ve got. Be grateful to have any teacher and the kids can make it up in later years,’” Hanover said. “Which we don’t find an acceptable message to send to nine-year-olds.”

While some students enter French immersion from kindergarten, Wilson said others don’t start until Grade 6.

“All of those kids end up in the same classrooms in Grade 8. They merge because their quality of instruction has been such that they can all learn at the same level at that point,” Wilson said.

RELATED: BCTF wins grievance over teacher shortage in public schools

But Hanover wasn’t convinced that the students’ French won’t go unaffected.

“They talk about the slide that happens over summertime, which is why they’ve every now and then, the idea of full-year school comes up. That’s just two months. What would 12 months do for that backslide?” she said.

“Next year, they’ll be in Grade 5, and that Grade 5 teacher will be having to try to teach two years worth of French. … It’s not like there’s extra resources to make it up next year. We’ve strapped all of our EAs and learning assistants.”

The group of parents suggested the school rotate staff through different classes so each class gets regular exposure to English learning, but Hanover said the school district’s response was not supportive, because it could affect the education of numerous classes, rather than just one.

Abbotsford School District spokesperson Kayla Stuckart said in an email that the district has been working to attract French teachers, including mentorship, prioritizing, creating a full-time recruitment position and financial incentives for relocation.

“Our primary focus during this interim period is to ensure the requirements of the BC curriculum are being met. As such, we have a qualified teacher in the classroom supporting continued student learning in English. We are also adapting to ensure that students are still getting continued exposure to the French language,” Stuckart said.

That includes “team-teaching” three days a week for French reading and writing, joint field trip and other events with other French immersion classes, a buddy program between French immersion secondary and elementary students and bringing in fourth-year French university students as volunteers.

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Dustin Godfrey | Reporter

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