The grade 1-4 French Immersion class was the first class to complete their first wooden crate project as part of the Build Grow Share kindness project in November 2020. (Submitted/Lakes District News)

The grade 1-4 French Immersion class was the first class to complete their first wooden crate project as part of the Build Grow Share kindness project in November 2020. (Submitted/Lakes District News)

William Konkin Elementary’s French Immersion program discontinued

Program deemed unsustainable at the board meeting

Burns Lake will be losing its only French Immersion program at William Konkin Elementary (WKE) school starting the upcoming school year.

During an April 19 board meeting, the board passed a motion to discontinue the french immersion program at WKE at the end of the current school year.

“The Board of Education understands that this decision will disappoint students and families currently in French Immersion at William Konkin Elementary School but are confident that the district and school will support the school and families with the transition process,” read the media release issues by the school board.

On April 20, 2020, a report regarding the French Immersion programs’ review in School District 91 (SD91) was released by the Board of Education of the school district. This review was conducted by AZ Cooper Consulting and submitted to the board after in-person interviews with parents, teachers, students and the union to determine the sustainability of having french immersion programs in the schools in the school district.

The report which detailed enrolments, budget, staffing and curriculum concerns as well as concerns over diversity within the French Immersion (FI) programs at William Konkin Elementary (WKE) in Burns Lake, WL McLeod Elementary School in Vanderhoof and Nechako Valley Secondary School (NVSS) in Vanderhoof recommended eliminating the FI program at WKE.

READ MORE: French Immersion program deemed unsustainable in Burns Lake

“We are extremely disappointed by this decision. The school board focused solely on that report and didn’t even look at the testimonials, the enrollments, the interest in the community and all the positive things this programs brought to Burns Lake,” said Beth Berlin, the President of the Burns Lake Canadian Parents for French (CPF) chapter and a nurse practitioner.

Berlin along with Nikki Shumka, another concerned parent and manager of the Little Angels Daycare, along with several other French Immersion parents, came together to keep the program in place. Ever since the report came out, Shumka and Berlin made a lot of noise about the importance of the French Immersion program through marketing, promotion, gathering testimonials from previous students, gathering letters of support, etc.

“It is just so heartbreaking. There already isn’t any enrichment offered in the school such as music, drama, etc. On top of that, losing a program that has been around for 20 years and has helped so many students is just sad,” said Shumka. She has now taken her kids out of WKE and will be sending them to a school out of the catchment area.

Shumka also said that she wouldn’t be surprised if other parents would look for other options for their kids’ education.

Another parent, Delena Carl, also said that she won’t be enrolling her daughter to WKE as she was anyway out of catchment and now they will be enrolling her in her original catchment area.

“I was in French Immersion when I was younger and it definitely opened up opportunities. We wanted the same opportunity for our daughter and we were quite looking forward to enrolling her,” she said, adding that they are even considering leaving the area.

“I am just so disappointed that the school district decided to take this opportunity away from our community.” she said.

French immersion was established in Burns Lake at the former Muriel Mould Primary School in the September of 2000.

A statement issued by the Canadian Parents for French, Burns Lake Chapter read, “It is with heavy hearts that we have to let everyone know that the SD 91 board unanimously voted to end French Immersion in Burns Lake as of September 2021. We would like to thank everyone who supported the effort to prevent this and who took a chance and enrolled for next year. What a loss this will be for our community.”

Local MLA John Rustad was also saddened by the loss of the program and said that he hoped the school district considered all options before making this decision. He also remarked that 14 students enrolling for a Kindergarten class was a good size cohort for this region and that it was surprising that the program was cut.

Rustad is now hoping to speak with the school district in the first week of May to find out the board’s reasoning behind it as well as to explore whether all options have been considered.

READ MORE: Several Burns Lake parents trying to save French Immersion

ALSO READ: Parents present their case for french immersion to SD 91 board

Priyanka Ketkar
Multimedia journalist

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