The 50/50 split

Ottawa parents weigh in on OCDSB and OCSB’s two-year bilingual program

Kindergarten classrooms across Ottawa have seen some major changes in recent years, starting with the introduction of full-day learning and, as of September 2016, a 50/50 split of French and English for students in the public and Catholic boards.

Both the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board (OCDSB) and the Ottawa Catholic School Board (OCSB) now offer a two-year bilingual program that consists of 50 percent English instruction and 50 percent French instruction with students alternating every other day between two homerooms – one with a French instructor and the other with an English teacher.

Parenting Times asked three local parents what they thought of the program.

For Adina Szalai, the French/English kindergarten curriculum provides her four-year-old son, Amos, a junior kindergarten student in the OCDSB, the chance to maintain a part of Canadian heritage.

“I think, if the kids can learn French and have that as a part of their youth, it’s just going to be better in the future,” she says. “It’s fun for them and it exposes them to a different part of Canadian culture and I think it’s really important that the knowledge is there. I’m really grateful that the opportunity is there.”

Amos had no prior knowledge of French before he started school last September, but his mom says he is really embracing his newfound second language.

“He does try to speak in French, he asks questions about what things are called, he likes to count and say his colours in French and likes the songs,” Szalai explains. 

Jamie Clark has noticed the same thing with his five-year-old daughter, Hannah, a senior kindergarten student at the OCDSB. 

“Sometimes, it’s hard to understand what she’s saying because I’m not sure she’s getting all the words right, but she likes to count and point out colours in French,” he says. “She actually taught her younger sister ‘la tête,’ which means ‘hands on head’ so, when we push her highchair into the table, she doesn’t get her hands squeezed underneath.”

Like a lot of parents, Clark says he was a bit nervous that Hannah would be lost when it came to the French side of things, as she had no previous experience with the language, but he and his wife Kim have now decided that their daughter will continue her education in French immersion. 

When Maggie McAdam first registered her four-year-old son, Bentley, in junior kindergarten in the OCSB last fall, she says she wasn’t aware of the fact that the kindergarten program was a 50/50 split, but that she is now happy it is. 

“Once he started, I was fine with it because, being in Ottawa, it’s good to have French. I think it will only benefit him in the future,” she explains, adding her only concern was that she and her husband don’t speak the language and could only offer limited help when schoolwork comes home.

“I worried about it at first, but I feel like he’s a little sponge right now so he’s just taking it all in and loving school and this is all he knows.”