All English N.B. students should learn French as second language retired teacher

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A retired New Brunswick teacher is calling the province’s planned changes to the early French immersion program a mistake, saying instead that English speaking students should be required to learn French as a second language.

Jane Sherrard, who taught Kindergarten and Grades 1 and 2 for the Anglophone East School District, says the current immersion program shouldn’t be switched back to a Grade 1 entry level as the government announced in September, but should be scrapped all together.

READ MORE: New Brunswick French immersion returning to Grade one

“I am outraged, they have no justification to do it at all. It is the worst thing they could possible be doing for our children,” Sherrard said.

Sherrard has requested a formal meeting with Premier Brian Gallant to recommend he eliminate the immersion program and replace it with one that would “bilingualize” students.

“We need to find a program that will bilingualize all children if we are going to be a bilingual province. Right now we have 65 per cent of our Anglophone kids that don’t have the skills to compete,” she said.

Sherrard says moving the program back to Grade 1 does nothing to address the real problems she sees with second language training — the fact that “the strongest performance children and the children from the most affluent homes are gravitating toward the immersion programs,” leaving students who need more support behind.

“We are letting children fall through the cracks every day because we are letting too many struggling learners and children that need help in one class. We need heterogenic classes like everywhere else in the world,” Sherrard said.

Trish Smith of Riverview sees the importance of having students in the province have French as a second Language. She enrolled all three of her daughters in the immersion program because she felt strongly that they should learn French.

However, she says the program’s entry level is not the problem — instead, she says it comes down to a lack of follow through.

“We are losing our students in high school and we need to look at why we are losing them, and it’s got nothing, in my opinion, to do with when they started,”  Smith said.

According to the New Brunswick Department of Education, surveys with graduate students show that roughly 43 per cent of immersion students switch back to English before graduation.

READ MORE: New Brunswick premier calls for ‘tolerance’ amid bilingualism tensions

“Instruction in French Immersion is compulsory until the end of Grade 10. Immersion students are encouraged to remain in the program until Grade 12 to maintain or improve their language proficiency,”  Department of Education spokesperson Kelly Cormier said in an email statement to Global News.

Smith says her eldest daughter dropped out of French immersion in Grade 10 so she could master her science studies and terminology in English before moving on to college. Even though her daughter is fluently bilingual and held down a summer job at a Francophone hospital, “She will be that statistic that is not a success in the immersion program because she doesn’t have the certificate.”

Smith says if all New Brunswick students were required to graduate with French as a second language, as Sherrad suggests, it would eliminate the segregation between those who are and are not officially bilingual.