Journal Pioneer

A feel for French

- Natalie Pen­der­gast Natalie Sans ‘h’ Society · Bullying · Family · Parenting

A few months ago, I was out with some fel­low mom friends hav­ing break­fast. Nat­u­rally, we were talk­ing about our kids and got on the topic of schools. I couldn’t stop gush­ing about my son Archie’s school, which just so hap­pens to be an all-French school — one of six across the Is­land.

A few months ago, I was out with some fel­low mom friends hav­ing break­fast. Nat­u­rally, we were talk­ing about our kids and got on the topic of schools. I couldn’t stop gush­ing about my son Archie’s school, which just so hap­pens to be an all-French school — one of six across the Is­land.

These par­tic­u­lar friends are first lan­guage English-speak­ers like me, so, for them, the French schools ex­ist as a kind of un­der­ground or sub­cul­tural phenomenon - ev­ery­one has heard of them, but few know what they are about. There are a lot of mis­con­cep­tions fly­ing around. So, I wasn’t that sur­prised when one friend turned to me and said, “you’re so lucky! I wish my daugh­ter was in French school or even French im­mer­sion, but I don’t speak any French so there’s no way I could help her with her school­work.” Par­ents not speak­ing French is a com­mon rea­son given for why they don’t en­roll their chil­dren in French school. But this bar­rier to French ed­u­ca­tion may soon be re­moved.

En­ter Mary MacPhee: PhD stu­dent at UPEI whose work ex­plores the ex­pe­ri­ences of non-fran­co­phone par­ents with chil­dren in the French schools, as well as pos­si­ble so­lu­tions for the lan­guage/iden­tity is­sues they have. MacPhee says she was in­spired by her own per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence, “we have felt awk­ward as non-fran­co­phone par­ents with our chil­dren at the French school, de­spite my French Aca­dian her­itage and French lan­guage pro­fi­ciency. I ob­served many other non­fran­co­phone par­ents at the school, I won­dered how they felt or were in­volved, and that is how the re­search be­gan.” From there, she formed part­ner­ships and launched a pi­lot project in 2012-2013. The goal of the project was to test cer­tain strate­gies in the French schools to see which ones suc­cess­fully en­gaged par­ents in the fran­ci­sa­tion of their chil­dren. A pro­gram of ac­tiv­i­ties was gen­er­ated and the data and re­sults MacPhee col­lected from the pi­lot project in­formed her study that will soon be pub­lished in the Cana­dian Jour­nal of Ap­plied Lin­guis­tics. MacPhee’s re­search shows that non-fran­co­phone par­ents need to feel wel­come, in­volved and un­der­stood. The good news is that there are ways that non­fran­co­phone par­ents can work to­gether with school boards to help their kids learn and mas­ter French.

The dif­fi­culty lies in ne­go­ti­at­ing ef­fec­tive com­mu­ni­ca­tion strate­gies with non-fran­co­phone par­ents while re­main­ing faith­ful to the French schools’ French-only poli­cies. But, MacPhee says, “some of (the so­lu­tions for parental in­volve­ment) have al­ready been acted on,” and the schools con­tinue to ex­plore new ways to bet­ter in­clude non-fran­co­phone par­ents and new tools for French study out­side of school hours.

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Mary MacPhee
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