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To enrol or not to enrol

Lyndsay Herman
Northern News Services
Published Monday, June 25, 2012

The Tlicho Community Services Agency is launching a Tlicho immersion kindergarten class pilot project at Elizabeth Mackenzie Elementary School this fall and the concept has generated some controversy in the community.

Jane Arychuk, director of education for the Tlicho Community Services Agency, said the agency had not received any concerns about the program directly but had been aware of conversations circulating on Facebook.

"It's all misinformation," said Arychuk. "They didn't have all the information."

Arychuk said the misinformation included rumours that there would be no English kindergarten available when the Tlicho immersion class started in September and that the plans for immersion would extend to all grades at Elizabeth Mackenzie Elementary.

"No, there was never a plan (to cancel the English kindergarten) and this year it will be just kindergarten," she said. "There will always be an English kindergarten as well. It will all be by choice."

Arychuk said the immersion class may extend to Grade 3 or Grade 4 if the school has the instructors, resources and community interest to do so in future years.

A meeting hosted by the agency at Elizabeth Mackenzie Elementary School on June 19 was originally intended to be a kindergarten registration and parent information meeting regarding new territory-wide kindergarten curriculum. However, in light of the emerging concerns about the nature of the program, the meeting included a Tlicho immersion presentation followed by a question period.

At the meeting, Rita Mueller, chief executive officer for the Tlicho Community Services Agency, said there are plans for both an English and a Tlicho kindergarten class however, she noted, if a situation arose where 25 students enrolled in the Tlicho immersion class and only five were enrolled in the English, then the agency "would have to rethink what we do here." She said the ideal situation is where all the Elizabeth Mackenzie parents want their child enrolled in the immersion program.

Tammy Steinwad, language and culture programming co-ordinator for the Tlicho Community Services Agency, said there would need to be a minimum of 12 students enrolled in the Tlicho immersion kindergarten class in order for it run.

A concerned community member, who asked to remain anonymous, said she was upset by the lack of formal consultation between the Tlicho Community Services Agency and the community regarding the development of the program.

"With the way it was put upon us, we weren't even notified formally," she said. "There was no formal presentation, there was no community meeting regarding this."

She said her greatest concern with immersion is that students would not have the same level of education available in the Tlicho immersion classes as in the English classes and she would prefer students learn Tlicho through a bilingual program.

"My concern right now is test score averages," she said. "There's only so many words in the native tongue that are capable of even ... speaking (about) textbooks or teaching textbooks ... Is there even the manpower or people who are educated enough to speak, write, read the native tongue and write it on a chalkboard right off the (top of their head)? Are they even equipped to do so? I don't believe so.

"I could see it being a bilingual program. That ... would go hand-in-hand with what the old chief had decided. It was supposed to be strong like two people. We were supposed to work hand-in-hand, our way and the white man's way."

Steinwad said students in the English class would have approximately 30 minutes of Tlicho instruction three times per week.

Mueller said parents can expect a four or five month period after the immersion students join the English class in Grade 3 or Grade 4 where they may struggle to catch up to their English counterparts. She said after that point, students will meet or exceed the performance of the English students. Both Arychuk and Steinwad said the immersion students would not need additional English support because they would already know the language from their daily lives.

Fact file

Top four mother languages in the NWT

Total 0-19 20-39 40-59 60+

English 31,545 11,875 10,015 8275 1,380

Tlicho 1,950 450 730 545 220

South Slave 1,285 110 320 527 320

French 975 180 265 425 105

According to the 2006 census, there are more NWT citizens who's mother tongue is Tlicho than any other aboriginal language.

Source: NWT Bureau of Statistics, 2006 Census

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