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  • Writer's pictureTrevor Greenway

Decoding Hadley's Enriched French program

Many parents of Grade 6 students leaving elementary schools in the region and heading off to junior high school may be looking to enrol their child in a French immersion program. 

However, parents could be surprised to find out that their understanding of “immersion” may not reflect the Enriched French program offered by Hadley Junior High School.

According to Dodie Payne, principal at both Hadley Junior and Philemon Wright High Schools, Enriched French is not French immersion, but rather a “higher level” of French than one would find in any immersion schools around. The program is designed for Francophone kids – pupils who can already read and comprehend French at a high level, according to Payne. But she said that doesn’t mean English kids can’t thrive with the proper support.

“We have found that the key to success in the Enriched French program is being able to read and comprehend a text at a Grade 7 level like you would in a French school,” said Payne. “There usually is more homework because the vocabulary is so different; it takes longer to teach the lesson in class, so there is always follow-up afterward. It’s not added work; it’s the same work; it’s just taking longer because it’s in French at a higher level.” 

Some parents the Low Down spoke with reported doing up to three hours of homework a night – in multiple subjects. 

“It was stressful,” said parent Colleen MacDonald, whose son is taking the Grade 7 Enriched route. She said the hours of homework a night have been intense, but his grades eventually climbed, and he made the honour roll during the school’s second term. But maintaining those grades comes with stress. 

“He still worries about his marks, because he knows that he has to get 70 per cent [average] in order to stay in the [Enriched French] program.” MacDonald said they thought they were prepared: he had a private French tutor in Grade 6 and his elementary school marks were high. But the intensity of Grade 7 French Enriched still surprised them and he struggled through the first term.

“He came into the program strong, but I wouldn't say that he was prepared for the level of French he needed for the enriched program.”

Payne explained that the Enriched French program at Hadley offers a higher level of French than one would get at a French immersion school. What the school has done though, is built an immersion program around the Enriched French – science, geography, ethics and history – for a nearly all-French program for the students who choose to go that route. On the English side, students are taught the same content in science, geography, ethics and history – only that it’s taught in English. The French language class in Enriched French and that in the English program are vastly different in terms of the level of French that is used in class. 

“Everybody in Grade 7 is doing the same. It's just that some are doing it in English, and some are doing it in French,” explained Payne. “The only difference is that Enriched French is at a very different level than the Core French, so that's the only subject that's different. But it is very much a higher level.”

It’s important to note that Hadley is the only option for any kind of Enriched French or immersion program in the region, as St. Mike’s in Low doesn’t offer it. 

‘Supports are there' for struggling students: principal

Hadley doesn’t refuse students from entering the Enriched French program as long as there is room – even when a student's French assessment isn’t up to the level it should be, according to Payne. She told the Low Down that the school puts support in place for student success. 

“If somebody fails that assessment, they are still allowed in the program if there is a spot, it’s just that we make sure that there are supports in place,” said Payne, referring to lunchtime remediation sessions, after-school tutoring programs and buddy programs with senior students. 

“If there is a spot, a student can go in as long as we have met with the parents and that there are supports put in place. Supports are there, explains Payne, sometimes for anxiety; sometimes  for academics; sometimes just to make sure that someone is checking in. It depends on the student.”

She said that while the program is challenging and designed for kids who already have a good grasp of the French language, it has a 95 per cent success rate, with only about five per cent of kids ditching it for the English stream. 

But Payne said she wants parents to know that if their kids aren’t strong enough for Enriched French, it doesn’t necessarily mean they will be disadvantaged if they graduate from the English stream. Hadley’s Core French program is robust enough for students to gain what they need to move on to higher education in Quebec, according to Payne.

“If you go all the way through and graduate from Philemon Wright in Core French, you're considered bilingual,” said Payne. “Our kids are ready for CEGEP with the new Bill 96.”

Can my child switch out of Enriched French if they are struggling?

Yes, however, it’s important to know that the cutoff date for switching from Enriched French to Core French, or vice versa, is at the end of September. Payne said that the school finds it too disruptive for kids to switch after the first month, and most will spend the rest of the year “trying to catch up.”

Are kids well prepared in elementary school?

Western Quebec School Board schools have various models of French immersion programs that help students transition into Enriched French at Hadley. Wakefield Elementary strives for a 60 per cent English/40 per cent French split. According to principal Julie Fram Greig, schools determine the English/French split based on staffing – how many francophone teachers they have. 

“You can’t just give French to anglophone teachers or hire francophones if you already have employees, so it takes time,” said Fram Greig, explaining that Wakefield increased its ratio to 60/40 over the last few years after hiring several francophone teachers. 

Fram Greig said that more than half of graduating Wakefield students enter the Enriched French program at Hadley and “do very well there.” However, she said she does worry about out-of-province students who have had little exposure to French.

“The standards for graduating in high school, even in base, are very high… I worry about those students who come in later and have missed some of this time in French,” she continued. “Some just struggle to learn in English, so adding the second language can be an added stress for some. Providing support for those who struggle to learn French is always a challenge for us.”

By the numbers:

Hadley/PWHS enrollment: 1,350 students

Number of students in Enriched French: 267

Enriched French success rate: 95 per cent

Enriched French dropout rate: 5 per cent

Date for switching out of Enriched French: Sept. 30


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