Sunday, February 16, 2014

French Immersion for the Student with Down Syndrome: The Why.

It's official.

We have registered Ella for French Immersion and she has been accepted into Lord Tennyson Elementary, where Jakob is currently enrolled in Grade 1. Lord Tennyson is a one track school, which means everyone is in French Immersion. I know what you're thinking...You must be mad! Well, no, I don't think I am. I recognize that it is an unconventional decision and from what I can tell, completely unchartered territory but I think that the potential in such an endeavour makes it worth a try.

The Why: 

There are many reason why, we think this is the best decision for Ella.

1.) It keeps Ella with her brother in the same school. Because Lord Tennyson is our early french immersion catchment school and because it is a one track school, we would either have to pull Jakob out of french or put Ella into french to keep them together. I think it is important that they are together first and foremost because Jakob is Ella's guardian - it's not a label we have put on him or forced him into be but he naturally is, as her older brother. Secondly, it is really quite inconvenient having children at two different schools. We are experiencing that right now. Ella is picked up early from her school to get to Jakob's school for 3pm. In addition, two schools would mean potential conflicts with Christmas Concerts, Winter Fairs, etc.

2.) We believe that there are many advantages to having a second language. Reasons range from the fact that Canada is officially a bilingual country, to our desire to travel and possibly live abroad when the kids are a bit older, to the fact that the learning of a second language serves to strengthen other areas of learning such as creativity and music.

3.) Why not? When people ask me why we are putting Ella into French Immersion, I say that my cynical answer is, "If they expect her to fail in English, why not let her fail in French." I know what you're thinking...real mature. But the truth is that there is not enough evidence to prove that French Immersion is detrimental to students with special needs. The fact of the matter is that there aren't enough cases to do an accurate assessment. Ella would be the first child with Down Syndrome to attend Lord Tennyson and, as far as I know, one of the first to be enrolled in French Immersion in Canada (I haven't found any cases so far). So in this way, I suppose you could say that Ella is a guinea pig (or as my husband corrects me: a pioneer), which I am okay with, because if her experience can serve to benefit children with special needs in the future, I am all for that.

4.) External Benefits. There are also many benefits that have an external affect. There is much skepticism surrounding French Immersion. I have been told that it is the "poor man's private school". Yes, to my face. In reality, it is somewhat true. Jakob attended private school in England and it was the best experience we have ever had (not that we have had much experience). If I could afford private school here in Canada, I would have put Jakob in one. That being said, we chose French Immersion for Jakob because he had already had a year of school when we came to Canada and going into Kindergarten he needed a challenge (the English system teaches literacy much earlier and therefore he was exceptionally ahead in every subject area). But the fact of the matter is that some people believe that there is a higher success rate for children in French Immersion because they would do well anywhere. The argument presented in the Globe and Mail is that it is a way of "streaming". In reality, there are very few children with special needs in Jakob's school. By enrolling Ella, she will give these children the benefit of diversity and the lesson of acceptance. Not only that, but it is my hope to document our progress, whether that be one year or twelve years, and hopefully shed some light on whether French Immersion is appropriate for some children with Down Syndrome. Obviously, Ella is just one individual and her experience will be different for others, however, she may face some of the same challenges as her peers with Down Syndrome.

To be honest, I don't feel like I owe anyone an explanation as to why we have made this decision. This is the beauty of Canada and the leaps and bounds that have been made in the area of inclusion - they can't legally refuse us ;) . But while I know it is the best choice that we can make with the cards that we have before us at the present, there is obviously a sense of reservation and insecurity. There always is with anything **new**. I want to share this journey with you partly because there may be someone out there who can benefit from this information or the progression of our own reasoning on the parents and partly because I believe that in writing out and articulating these thoughts, I will be better able to document our experience and identify weaknesses in my arguments and evidence for or against French Immersion for children with Down Syndrome. So welcome here. Welcome to this journey.
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ROSALIE said...

I know my opinion likely doesn't matter one way or the other . . . but I think it's great that Ella is going to a French Immersion school. It's a brilliant move and I think only good can come out of it. So you have my support, big time!


Pei-Ling Lin said...

Ella is bright and beautiful, and is so blessed to be your child. She is born "for such a time as this". God will be glorified in this journey. Faith, hope, and love will take you and Ella as far as where Father God wants you to be. I see this as a great opportunity for many greater things to come. :)

Laura said...

I think it's great! We're in Canada too & I'd love to have that option but unfortunately it's not available anywhere even remotely close to us. You show them Ella!


Leslie said...

There are actually studies of children with Down syndrome who are bilingual - and that it is a success. As we come from a bilingual home, for us also, it's the obvious choice.

Anonymous said...

We are bringing up our 3 year old son with Down syndrome bilingually, speaking both Japanese and English. It is going really well so far with him understanding both and speaking to the same level in both languages. I think it is a great idea.

Sally said...

We too are registering our about to be 5 year old for French immersion at the same school as her big brother. We are not too far from you in North Burnaby. I'd love to share notes. I know of another boy, now in Gr 3 who started in FI but eventually moved out. He did well as far as I know but a change of EA made things difficult. I can put you in touch with them. Ella is gorgeous.

Krista said...

Sally, I left a comment on your blog, I would love to connect!

Carolyn said...

I think that is so cool! My oldest son went through French immersion and then I gave birth to twins one who happened to have Down's Syndrome. Sadly he passed away at 6 weeks of age 6years ago. I've often wondered what choice I would have made because I would not want to separate him from his twin. To hear your story would have made me brave enough to do the same as you had he lived. Best wishes on your journey.

Mariska said...

We are a bilingual family. Our youngest daughter will be three years old in a few months. She has Down syndrome. We have spoken to her in Dutch and English since birth. She doesn't speak much (some sign language) but understands quite a bit of Dutch, which she hears from me all day long, and some English. So far, so good!

So I think it can work just fine, and I totally understand you wanting to keep your kids together in school!! Hope it will go well for your girl. (She is adorable, by the way!)

Jennifer said...

Krista, I was going to do the same thing with my 5 year old boy in Vancouver! I was given a red flag by the school administration however. In moving to Montreal recently I thought, `Great! Now he`ll get to learn French for sure.` People are VERY resistant even here. How did you convince the admin to give this a shot? How is it going? BTW: Every single point you made as to `why` lined up with mine. Why not learn two languages at x% rather than just one?

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