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New Westminster to have triple-grade French class at John Robson

A majority of parents of students in next year's Grade 5 early French immersion class at John Robson elementary have opted to remain true to their school.

The students are part of Robson's first early French class. It began with larger numbers in kindergarten and Grade 1, but has dwindled to nine girls currently in Grade 4. New Westminster district director of instruction Sandra Pace told the parents having such a small class next year would cost about $180,000 for a teacher and another portable on the school's already crowded grounds.

Pace said the parents were offered the opportunity to transfer to their children to the other early French programs at Lord Tweedsmuir or Herbert Spencer. But she also gave them the option of remaining at Robson. Doing so would require a split class of Grade 3, 4 and 5 students.

Although at first Dave Faber considered transferring his daughter to Tweedsmuir, the family decided against it despite the triple-grade class.

"Most of us took the time to think about it," said Faber. "We like the program so we're going to stay ... Is it ideal? I don't know."

While two-grade splits are common, three grades is not, although Pace said there is some evidence from Montessori models that the outcome for students is actually better in the long run because of the skills they develop.

"They learn from their more experienced peers, and by explaining to younger peers, you're learning language skills, and you're thinking about how to tell them in a different language," said Pace.

Originally when she laid out the options to the parents for September there was some fear they were being forced to transfer. That didn't turn out to be the case.

"It's a natural reaction to say, 'Oh, there's a limited space.' You look at your store flyer that says 'only three available' and there's door crashers. When you look at it (more closely) you say, 'I don't need to panic,'” said Faber.

"The ultimate thing was we liked the program. This is our neighbourhood and we want to support our local school."

Pace said since only 22 can register for kindergarten, and no new students are taken into an early French immersion class after Grade 1, it is common for attrition to take its toll.

When the parents first signed up for the program they knew the transfer scenario or split classes was possible.

"They were aware of it at the time. Let's be fair to people, that was five years ago, they might have forgotten," Pace said.

Faber and Pace said one family is moving their daughter to Herbert Spencer while another is going to Tweedsmuir.

Pace said those choosing to remain at Robson will be mixed in with 12 students going into Grade 4 and some Grade 3s. That will also require a split class of Grade 2 and 3 students.

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