Friday, 27 August 2010

Schooling switch

A chance encounter with an acquaintance last week left us in a spiral as we suddenly considered a schooling switch for Colin (and, consequently, the other two boys later on). Two years ago Orangeville opened its first Francophone school. Officially, this school is for children who have a parent whose first language is French. However, they do consider applicants whose parents have a good grasp of the language, if the child shows an aptitude for French. We had passed on the idea when we enrolled Colin in school last year, worried that James and my French wouldn't be able to hold up enough to give Colin any help he might need as he went through the years.

I always find it important to remember the end goal when making decisions that have long-term effects. Our goal for French immersion was 1) to give Colin a solid second language base, which could provide additional employment opportunities, and make it easier to learn other languages and 2) to challenge him in school, given his quick learning. Keeping those goals in mind, we considered anew the Francophone school.

There was no doubt that children at the Francophone school were learning French much faster. I have a friend whose daughter could carry on a basic conversation after 3 months in school, never having spoken French before. After one year, Colin can count, say the alphabet, and use any number of singular words, but there was no learning sentences, to speak or to understand. Thinking forward to either the gifted program (grade 4) or high school (there is no local Francophone high school), Colin might eventually leave the French program, and so this opportunity will give him a much more solid foundation to hold onto the language if he moves to English education.

The class size at the new school was also an attractive feature: there will be 10 kids in Colin's class. There is no question that a 10:1 ratio is better than a 26:1 ratio. Also appealing (to me) is the fact that from grade one to grade six, the classes are all split grades. I think the opportunity of learning from older children and mentoring younger children is invaluable in the classroom setting. It often allows children more of a chance to learn at their own pace, be it faster or slower than other kids in the class.

The new school is in town, only seven minutes away by car, but Colin would be bussed. This is attractive right now, because of nap times. Caleb is the little personality that sets the mood in our home. If he is grumpy, it can spread throughout the family. And waking him mid-nap to pick Colin up from school was a constant problem for us last year. A school bus, with the stop likely right outside our home, will allow Caleb and Benjamin to get the sleep they need. Once naps are a thing of the past, I may opt to drive and pick up the boys myself, giving us a little more before and after school time together.

Having considered and weighed the positives and negatives of each decision (it was hard to decide to leave a school with all of Colin's friends, and children of my own friends, and move to a program that has full day, every day schooling for both JK and SK) we opted to start to the process. This morning James and I had our own interview with the principal, to test our level of French. Although our vocabulary is lacking, we can both follow 95% of any conversation and can also manage to express our views, albeit in a much simpler and less eloquent way than in English. I constantly assure myself that in the beginning I only need to be able to converse and understand a kindergarten level of French, and then learn it year by year with Colin. Colin also had a private interview, which, I think, was less successful. The principal was speaking to Colin in French, asking him questions and giving him instructions. It was in this that the lack of learning that happened last year was most evident. Because French Immersion involves the teacher giving instructions in French first, followed by the English translation, many children simply learn to wait for the English. It is a much slower learning process, and unnecessary, given that the Francophone children are starting at the same spot and learning more, and more quickly.

We have another interview with the Superintendent on Tuesday, which is more about our enthusiasm for the language and the program than our skills. Providing that goes well, Colin should be able to start this school year at the new school.

Gratefully Colin is easily adaptable. He has no problem starting a new school, no issues with learning a new routine. He would have been in a new class this year with all new people at last year's school anyway, so it's not a big issue. I'm still thankful that it won't disrupt him too much. It's also reassuring that, should this experiment fail, we can switch him back to our local French Immersion school next year. One of the things I've learned in my homeschooling research is that it is important to consider each child separately, and to reconsider things every year. There are many factors that can effect a child's education, and I always want to be conscious of what will provide the best learning environment for each of my kids.

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