Do you want your kids to be fluently bilingual, and to have the advantages and opportunities that come along with being able to communicate in both of Canada’s official languages?
Most parents recognize the benefits of bilingualism and French-language education, especially here in Ottawa. But do you realize you may have a better option in accessing French instruction for your children? Immersion isn’t the only choice.
“The only true way to guarantee full bilingualism is through the French schools,” says Jean-François Bard, superintendent of education for the Conseil des écoles catholiques du Centre-Est (CECCE). “By the time the children in our schools are done Grade 12, they’re fluent in reading, writing and comprehension” as well as in verbal communication.
This father of five knows exactly what he’s talking about. “My wife teaches in immersion,” he explains, adding immersion is great for functional French. “You’ll never be fluently French, though. You’ll be functional.”
On the other hand, not only are CECCE graduates fluently bilingual, they are successful—period. CECCE’s graduation rate is 96 per cent—the highest in the province—and its students are at the head of the Ontario ranks in provincial tests.
“We’re a very high ranking board when it comes to student results and student achievement,” Jean-François notes. “We’re very proud of our graduation rate too.”
As the country’s largest network of French-language schools outside Quebec, CECCE serves over 23,500 students. There are 43 elementary and 12 secondary schools, as well as a school for adults; most of the schools are located in Ottawa.
Your child may be able to attend one. In fact there are plenty of kids in immersion in the city who are actually eligible to enroll in French Catholic school.
Besides the standard boundary rules, there are religious and language criteria.
For elementary school, either the children or one of their parents must have been baptized Catholic. Starting in Grade 9, CECCE’s high schools are open to students of all religious denominations. As for language, the children’s parents or guardians must meet one or more of these conditions:
Their first language learned and still understood is French.
They received their school instruction in Canada in French.
They are parents or guardians of a child who has received or is receiving primary or secondary school instruction in French in Canada
However, if you don’t meet these language criteria you can still ask the school administration for an admission committee to consider your child’s registration.
“The best thing you can do is get in touch with your local school principal and see how it can work,” Jean-François recommends. Administrators will provide you with the different paths available to access the French schooling. They’ll also be looking for you to demonstrate how you’re going to support your child to thrive in the French environment. For instance, are you willing to access French tutoring or take French classes yourself?
“Parents are our number one partners in the education of our children,” the superintendent says. “Our main goal is to ensure each child is going to succeed. We really take that seriously.”
There are students who have switched from immersion to French Catholic school, he says. There are also cases in which admission committee decisions have been reversed because parents made the extra efforts to give their kids the opportunity.
If you absolutely want your youngsters to attend French Catholic school, but you don’t meet the language criteria, get on it ASAP. “Some of our greatest success stories involve parents who decided on French Catholic school even before they chose a daycare.”
In fact, kids can start learning French long before they are school age. There are some great French learning opportunities for preschoolers. For instance, Petits pas à trois is a free Francophone nursery school program for three-year-olds. It takes place in a school setting. In addition, most CECCE elementary schools have preschool childcare centres managed by a non-profit Francophone early childhood partner. Some welcome babies as young as three months.
Parents can also be part of the early French learning experience. French language playgroups are offered for kids up to age six at a number of CECCE schools. Open to all, they’re entirely in French and they provide parents and caregivers with an opportunity to connect with others. At various CECCE schools in Ottawa, there are also French as a second language courses for parents whose children are in this school system.
The breadth of CECCE programs and services speaks to its motto: All About The Child. Naturally, the speaking is done in French.
For details about CECCE and its offerings, see www.ecolecatholique.ca.