Fredericton — While the autumn weather is beginning to settle into the province, it’s Groundhog Day in New Brunswick elementary schools. Like a scene from the famous movie, everything old is new again with the entry point for early French immersion returning to Grade 1 in 2017.
Predictably, this change has sparked another squabble among interested groups and parents as to what is the most appropriate age for children to begin early French second language instruction. While early immersion advocates are lauding the province’s return to a Grade 1 entry point, others are worried that the schools are returning to circumstances that caused streaming and only a fraction of students graduating proficient in French.
Despite the consternation of parents and FSL advocates, New Brunswick children remain substantially uninformed and almost completely indifferent to the entire matter.
“Un deux trois pffffffft pffffffft pffffffft!” laughed 6-year-old Brandon Miller, blowing a raspberry to imitate the sound of flatulence. “Why is everyone talking about this? It’s giving me a huuuuuge headache!” he added with mock drama. “Can I have a cookie?”
“I’ll talk French at school like ‘bonjour… adios,'” said 4-year-old Brittany Williams, with one finger up her nose to the knuckle. Then she added, “I like French fries.”
Amid concerns about literacy rates and poor retention in 2008, then-minister Kelly Lamrock set off a firestorm of controversy by proposing to eliminate early French immersion (EFI) in favour of a Grade 5 intensive French program. Eventually the government compromised and set a Grade 3 entry point for EFI, while adding the intensive French Grade 5 program. While 8 years later those changes are showing some evidence of improved results, New Brunswick children remain unconvinced.
When asked for his opinion of the change back to Grade 1, 5-year-old Ethan Murphy shrieked, “I’M SPIDERMAN!” and kicked a Manatee reporter in the shins. He continued his dissertation with a list of non sequiturs including topics like Lego, his dog, Skylanders and his grandfather’s receding hairline.
Eight-year-old Emily Brown had a more considered opinion on the matter. “All of the grown-ups are grouchy about this. Look, whatever happens — kids are going to be fine. Some kids will talk French better and some will talk English better. Everyone wants kids to be OK, and we will be OK.”
When asked what advice she’d offer, she replied, “When my mom gets grouchy she puts me on time-out and has a glass of wine. I’m not sure if that would work here, but it’s worth a shot.”