It all started in the spring of 1990.
A number of university graduates, including Helene Moranville, embarked on an all-expenses paid trip from Montreal to a hotel in Campbell River.
A hiring fair for school districts in B.C. and Alberta looking for French Immersion teachers was the destination and finding a job was Moranville’s goal.
Twenty-five years later, that program is helping thousands of students in the west, including hundreds on the West Shore students learn a second language.
“I was the first teacher hired in the whole district. One (was) here at John Stubbs (elementary), the other at Saseenos (elementary),” Moranville recalls.
Now, she says, parents looking to enrol their kids in French immersion line up down the hallway to register their children in the program. “People are lining up to make sure they have a spot, because parents are seeing the importance of getting a second language.”
Starting with only 14 children in a single class, Moranville advanced with that group from Kindergarten through Grade 3, with a new teacher replacing her in the previous grade each year.
Showing the continued growth, this fall, almost 100 students will be enrolled in Kindergarten alone at École John Stubbs memorial school, which is changing to a single-track, French Immersion-only school.
“Canada being bilingual it is a great opportunity … I have students from previous graduation that got a job because they were bilingual,” Moranville said. “Some of my previous students are French Immersion teachers. (One) started here without a word of French, but is teaching French Immersion now. It is just amazing.”
Sooke School District board chair Wendy Hobbs said since its inception, French Immersion has played a major role in the district.
“French Immersion is a very popular program for families in our district and that’s why we continue to expand it to meet the needs of our students and parents,” she said. “Currently, we have 1,166 students in French Immersion, and like the overall population in our growing school district, that number is only going to increase.”
Moranville’s original plan to come west for a short time, gain experience then return to Montreal couldn’t have changed more. After 25 years teaching in the program, she is proud of the work the district and the teachers have done together as they celebrate a quarter century.
“I think the district should be proud to offer this opportunity to parents coming and looking for something different for their child,” she said. “It’s 25 years and going stronger than ever. It’s something we should be proud about because I (know I) am proud of this.”