French schools look for help as enrolment swells on P.E.I.

As enrolment continues to grow at P.E.I.'s six French language schools, officials are looking for ways to meet the demands of students.

Enrolment increased by about seven per cent this year to almost 1,000 students, according to French Language School Board chair Emile Gallant, and he expects that number to grow over the next few years.

"It's putting a strain on the teachers and also on all the resources in the schools, he said. "We have approached the province and are trying to access more resources."

Gallant said the board would like to offer more options to French-speaking students who are taking French immersion in English schools.

More than 400 at École François-Buote

"Hopefully, once we have new facilities and we can offer all the programs in all our schools that the parents will have a look and say, 'Yes I'd rather have my child in a French language first language education than immersion,'" Gallant said.

"Immersion is a good program for anglophones to learn the second language, but first language education is for those that are right holders and that they have a right to have access to those schools."

Nicole Williams/CBC

The largest French school is École François-Buote in Charlottetown, with more than 400 students. There are three kindergarten classes and almost enough for a fourth, Gallant said.

Numbers are also growing at École La-Belle-Cloche in eastern Kings County, Gallant said.

"They started over 15 years ago in a Fisheries Canada depot centre kind of and they've moved along and took a school that was closed down by the English school board and now they finally have their new school this year," he said.

"The numbers have increased quite dramatically there and they will keep going up so we're very happy that that area, which is the largest territory, is able to give access to families who want to have French language as a first education."

Looking at zones

Gallant said the board will begin looking at all six zones, something it hasn't done in 25 years, to see if changes are needed.

Whatever happens, he said it's important for the elected board to consult parents on matters that affect their children's schools.

"It's something we promote a lot where the parents are involved," he said. "We encourage our trustees to go and participate in the parents committees at the schools to be able to get input from the parents."

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With files from Mainstreet P.E.I.