P.E.I. school officials adapt to growing demand for English and French language classes

As more people move to Prince Edward Island from other countries and provinces, there's an increasing need for extra classes to teach English and French.

At a Public Schools Branch (PSB) meeting on Jan. 26, officials said more than 500 new students who need English or French language classes have started class on P.E.I. since September 2022, for a total of 2,750 students in the province.

"That doesn't count the children that are pre-school, for example, so that would have brought our total up to somewhere around 800 new children and youth," said Janet Perry-Payne, the PSB's director of EAL/FAL programs and services.

EAL and FAL are short for English as an Additional Language and French as an Additional Language, terms that have evolved from earlier references to teaching them as a "second language."

Since September, two more teachers have been added to the EAL program, Perry-Payne said. One is working to help assess new students' language proficiency.

Teachers help students learn the language that will help them understand learning new subjects, like science, in a separate class. Students learn what the word "demonstrate" means, for example, so they can understand it when the word comes up in science class.

Average of three years needed

"That gets challenging though as the numbers of children requiring the same amount of support increase in the schools," she said.

Perry-Payne said being able to communicate basic needs in a new language takes about two years, and getting to an academic level can take between five and seven.

"Most children need us for approximately three years," she said. "Those would be children that are coming in that have good literacy in their first language, have had a little bit of exposure to the English language."

She said since the pandemic, the branch has been able to bring the service online. Two staff members are working remotely with 68 high school students in seven different schools doing five different language classes.

"They're able to see those students every day of the week, whereas if I had those two staff members doing the typically itinerant role, they wouldn't be able to get to those students every day of the week," she said.

"We're seeing a lot of success with those students, so that's a response to a need that provides equity across P.E.I. regardless of where you live," she said.

Not slowing down

Norbert Carpenter, director of the Public Schools Branch, said the increase in students needing the support comes with challenges.

He said the branch is working with the province to make sure there is enough staff for the new students, and 20 schools have gotten extra funding. That push for extra dollars will continue next year, he added.

Brittany Spencer/CBC
Brittany Spencer/CBC

The Public Schools Branch currently has 34 EAL and three FAL teachers, as well as nine EAL Youth Service Workers to help students with transitional needs in 14 schools.

Carpenter said the teachers are doing a great job, but the need is increasing.

"There's really no sign that it's slowing down — only picking up," he said.