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French community proposes new high school

L’ Association franco-yukonnaise wants to build a new French high school, said association president Jean-Marc Perreault.

L’ Association franco-yukonnaise wants to build a new French high school, said association president Jean-Marc Perreault.

There are currently 17 high school students studying at Ecole Emilie-Tremblay, the only French language school in the territory.

The school is needed because of increased enrolment at the elementary level and to stem the loss of older students to other local high schools.

Kids start at the school’s daycare and can go all the way through to Grade 12.

“They’re just sick and tired of the same place and the same people, and it’s too far outside of town,” said Perreault, referring to Ecole Emilie-Tremblay on Hamilton Boulevard.

“Kids want to go to a different school. They want to be where the other students are and see new faces.”

In an attempt to retain student interest, the French school recently implemented an experiential arts and science program similar to that at the Wood Street school.

Students can chose to focus on outdoor leadership or a performance arts program.

But instead of only a semester, French students can take this program throughout their four years of high school.

This has helped increase student enrolment and retention, said Perreault.

In two years, all of the classrooms at Ecole Emilie-Tremblay will be filled with elementary level students.

With a number of high schools in Whitehorse, some offering French immersion courses, why is there a need for a French high school?

“It’s all based on Article 23 of the Constitution,” said Perreault.

“According to that article, French communities outside of Quebec have the right to self-govern their education.”

“The Supreme Court has ruled, over and over again, that French communities have the right to do that,” he added.

Entry into the French school is based on ancestral right.

If a child’s parents or grandparents were French and were educated in French then they are entitled to go to the school, even if the student doesn’t speak the language.

This is based on the assumption that these students have not learned French because of forced assimilation.

Students have the right to enter the school without knowing a word of French.

“It costs a lot of money to teach that child French and also support the family,” said Perreault.

“The family needs to learn the language as well, so that they can speak at home and help their children with homework.”

“It’s enough already to be working with these children without having to take on others that would just like to send their children to the French school,” he added.

This is why students from non-French families who wish to learn the language have to go to French immersion schools.

Exceptions are made.

“If an English couple speaks French regularly to their children, a case can be made to enrol those children at the French school,” said Perreault.

“But it’s done on a case-by-case basis.”

The French association is ready to move forward with the plan for the new high school.

A year ago, the association bought the Legion hall next door to their current community centre.

Some are proposing to put the high school in the top floor of this building.

But the funds are needed.

Extra territorial money isn’t required for the Yukon’s French students, said Perreault.

The French association is lobbying Ottawa for much of the additional funds required for the new school.

“When they built Emilie-Tremblay the territory covered only a third of the cost,” he said.

“So, in a way, it’s not costing the territory anything. In fact, there’s more money coming into the territory thanks to that.”

The association has applied with Indian and Northern Affairs for funds to develop the project as well as the heritage department.

“It’s going to take about a quarter of a million dollars to do the planning and design study,” said Perreault.

“The federal government, for some reason, has been saying no to our demands for that money.

“But if we tweak our application, I’m sure we’ll be able to get this.”

“We need it to open in two years,” he added.

“That’s going to depend on the Yukon government and whether they want to jump on board or not.”

The secondary-school programming study, currently out for tender, will look into the need for any new high school, said Education Minister Patrick Rouble.

“We’re working very closely with the francophone school board.”

Prior to the Yukon Party taking office in 2001, the French association had a lawsuit against the government demanding changes to the Education Act.

The association wanted the francophone school board to have more power over its schools.

“(Premier Dennis) Fentie asked that we put the lawsuit aside. He said they’d work with us to fix the problems,” said Perreault.

“Well, it’s been six years now and nothing has really happened. They don’t want to touch the Education Act.

“So the community has to decide whether or not they’re going to reactivate that lawsuit.”