I truly feel like one of my most intense parenting moments was in choosing the right school for my daughter to attend. It doesn’t seem like that should even BE an issue, considering attendance is determined by your school district where we live. Except…in some cases, like ours, it’s not. In Ontario, children entering kindergarten (4yrs old or turning 4 in that calendar year) are invited to an open house at the school in their district. You can choose Catholic or public, but that’s pretty much it. So, like dutiful parents, proud they’d kept their child alive to reach this milestone, we trudged off to Isabella’s kindergarten open house a few blocks from the apartment we were living in.
I felt…unimpressed. I felt like it was a generic educational setting. High standards, but pretty uniform across the board. I wanted more. And I truly felt blocked in a corner, like THIS was the school your child will attend because THIS is your address. You’ll come to know, I don’t particularly like to be told what to do.
So, in a moment born of desperation, 4 weeks before her first day was set to start, I phoned a not-so-local French Immersion school and left a message on a voicemail system certain I wouldn’t hear from anyone until it was too late to register Bella. Instead, the principal of Percy P McCallum school called me from her home in less than 24 hours. I was (almost)already hooked. My husband and I accepted her invitation to tour her school and were significantly impressed. Thus began our journey into French Immersion education for our daughters, and we have continued to be impressed by this school, this system and the teachers.
Let me digress here for a moment: we don’t speak french. Some of my aunts & a great majority of my cousins do, but no other members of our family are fluent in french. Trust me, this was a concern of mine. Who would help with homework when they get to grade four and already the language is advanced beyond my own education? Answer: the high school immersion students tutor as part of their volunteering requirements for graduation. There is a phone number we can call if we’re stuck, and there are websites that can help us if all else fails. We aren’t worried. The resources are there. We set a Christmas deadline that first year, if she was struggling according to her teachers we would pull her out and place her back in english track. The same is true for the other two girls (Annika is starting school this coming September, french immersion as well).
We have been nothing but impressed from day one. The school recognizes that the majority of parents are in the same boat as us, french is not spoken in their home (there is a large majority that don’t even speak English as a first language) but they want more out of their child’s education. That is the bottom line to why we decided on French Immersion. The extra doors it will open to my children is unarguable. When it comes to employment opportunities, “fluent in French” stands out on a resume. They are receiving a superior education, one that prepares them for that extra mile that will no doubt be needed by the time they are searching for gainful employment (and moving the hail out of my house. But not yet. Dear god, not yet. STAY LITTLE.) It’s the least I can do for them, and we feel blessed that we even have the option in Canada.
Isabella doesn’t use her French much at home, but some phrases are standard in our home now. When travelling to her grandparents last summer, we made sure to remind Pa that “Puis-je aller au toilettes, s’il vous plaît?” means “Can I go to the bathroom, please?”. I was instructed last month that, “when I say ‘De rien’ it means ‘no problem’ ok Mom?” We remind her to count in French whenever she can, she is encouraged to recall the french name for insects they find in the backyard, she will sing the french versions of songs they use in their classroom. We are hopeful that once Annika, followed my Maëlle, begins to use the vocabulary at home that it will become a tool they rarely think about and use often.
Not only is Bella not struggling with the double-dipping of new-to-school + new language, she is thriving…in a rather impressive way. I can’t make hide nor tail of the ridiculous way they measure success in a kindergarten progress report (honestly? Board of Ed, the difference between “Demonstrates Most of the Time” and “Frequently Demonstrates” is so minuscule it’s confusing. Just fricken say “she ain’t great at this” “she’s pretty impressive with that” cause right now these pieces of paper mean nothing to me. The parent. Paying taxes. To fund your jobs. Stop coddling the children…gah.) but all of her teachers give nothing but glowing reports. In fact, let me brag for a moment: when we met her Kindergarten teacher this year she says to me, “Oh, you’re BELLA’S mom! I just love her. Really. When I got my class list and the other teachers saw I had her in my class they were all saying, ‘You’re so lucky, she’s just the sweetest kid. You’ll love her.’ and it’s not an exaggeration.” I could’ve melted on the the spot. My girl, sweetest kid in the school. At 5. ::wipes shoulders::
For any parent considering a French or any-other-second-language education…get yourSELF educated. Ask a lot of questions, tour the school, meet the teachers, talk to other parents…and then go with your gut. We think it’s the greatest decision we ever made for our kids, and we’re so proud.