June 04, 2020

SAD 33 rethinking vote on language program> Valley districts make case for bilingual education

ST. AGATHA — Because two other St. John Valley school units are involved in a federal bilingual education grant with SAD 33, the school district is reconsidering its action to withdraw from the program.

The Madawaska School Committee and SAD 24 at Van Buren have written to SAD 33 directors requesting their support of L’Acadien du Haut St. Jean Bilingual Education Program.

The SAD 33 board of directors voted 5-1 last month to end its participation in a $1.2 million five-year bilingual education program.

Approved last August by the federal government, L’Acadien du Haut St. Jean Bilingual Education Program was developed for SAD 24, SAD 33, and the Madawaska and Grand Isle school departments to assist students with limited proficiency in English.

SAD 33 is the lead agency and signatory of the project. The project office for the program is located in SAD 33’s Dr. Levesque Elementary School.

SAD 24 and the Madawaska School Committee sent letters to directors of SAD 33 requesting a reconsideration. “Should you choose to reconsider you decision, please remember our initial goal,” wrote Frances Gendreau, chairperson of the Madawaska School Committee.

That goal, she wrote, was to “foster true bilingualism and literacy in French and English, as well as to foster knowledge of, and pride in, the local culture.”

Gendreau noted that SAD 33 has been a leader in bilingual education in the St. John Valley. The remaining partners in the program, Gendreau wrote, “would surely miss your support, experience and expertise.”

The SAD 24 board of directors approved a similar letter to SAD 33 directors at a meeting last week. The SAD 24 board reminded SAD 33 that “we, too, have had concerns and still are unsure of some elements, but we feel the final outcomes (if we reach our goals) will far outweigh the concerns.”

In SAD 33, development of the program got off on the wrong foot late last fall. Parents feared the loss of programming in traditional and multiage classroom programs. They were angered because they weren’t involved in the development of the grant, and were unhappy because they had a hard time getting information on the project from the outset. They voted 2-1 against the proposal in a straw poll before directors voted.

Less than a week later, Frenchville and St. Agatha supporters of the bilingual project asked SAD 33 directors to reconsider their actions.

SAD 33 has been using federal funds for French-English schooling for several years. Previous programs focused on allowing French-speaking students to make a gradual transition to English in the classroom.

The new program was to add a new wrinkle to bilingual education. The project was intended to educate children with limited proficiency in English and also to teach French to English-speaking students.

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