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Parents at Kitsilano school concerned over French immersion program move

Kitsilano french immersion program set to move to the Downtown Eastside

Lord Strathcona Elementary School has only received seismic upgrades to two of its buildings. Photo by Squeaky Marmot
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Reported by Patrick Penner

Parents at a Kitsilano elementary school are refusing to accept the school district’s plan to move their French immersion program to a Downtown Eastside school.

The Henry Hudson parent advisory committee has had three emergency meetings in response to the news.

Robert Ford, chair of the committee and Kitsilano resident, said most of the parents would switch their kids to the English track rather than change schools.

“If the goal was to free up some space at the school, we don’t see this working,” Ford said.

Managing student populations isn’t easy

The school board has been shuffling student populations enrolled in specialty choice programs, like French immersion, to schools with surplus room across the city in recent years.

Patti Bacchus, a former school board chair, said the city has not kept up with building the required school space in line with the enrolment growth in the city.

“It’s like a chessboard, you move one piece and it always has other impacts, not always good ones,” Bacchus said.

The parents first learned details of the plan to move the program from an overcrowded Hudson to Lord Strathcona Elementary School, near Chinatown, during a board meeting on Jan. 23.

Ford said he left that meeting feeling worse than he thought he would.

“The ramifications of the thing are just not all thought out,” Ford said. “When you mess with parents’ schedules and where your kids go to school, it’s very emotional.”

The district wants to make room for two new kindergarten classes at Hudson where the enrolment for next year is 61 students above the official capacity.

The district staff’s basis for moving the program is the fact that the majority of French immersion students at Hudson live in the downtown peninsula.

But a large portion of students, 42 per cent, reside in Kitsilano.

Ford had been advocating for years to get Hudson seismically upgraded in hopes the improvements would provide the additional room for the growing number of students.

“The one that threw me right off my rocker is that we can’t build more space at a seismic upgrade here, because we have empty space somewhere else,” Ford said.

Moving location raises concern

The parents are upset at the disruption to their schedule, the lack of available space for extra childcare, and the rough area surrounding Strathcona, which is only 650 metres from East Hastings and Main streets.

“That’s not a safe corner,” Ford said. “I would either have to drive him or I’d have to take him on the bus because that bus isn’t exactly going through the nicest part of town.”

The Strathcona parents were also upset about the potential influx of new students coming with the program.

Only two buildings have received seismic upgrades at the Strathcona school complex and the surplus space is in areas that have not been renovated.

Parents worry which students will be shifted into the unsafe areas.

“It is not clear who would go into those classrooms, whether the French programs would or maybe some of the Strathcona kids would be,” Bacchus said.

The confusion has been adding to anger of Strathcona parents.

As an inner-city school, there is a high requirement for after-school programs. 

“[The Strathcona students] might lose space for what they were using for their childcare program,” said Bacchus.

Parents at Hudson were appalled when they learned of how their program would disrupt care for Strathcona students.

“None of us want to be the cause of a single child losing their after-school space,” Ford said. “We were totally freaked out when we learned this.”

But Hudson parents felt this program relocation would do more than move their kids to another school. It would also break up a community they had built up over years.

Jessica Holmes has had three kids attend Hudson.

“It’s a community,” Holmes said. “It’s beautiful.”

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