The six Grade 10 students involved in W.C. Miller's first ever Manitoba/Quebec Student Exchange Program are: (Quebec students seated in front) Marguerite Hemond, Anika Toews, Florence Thibodeau, Ariel Klassen, Dominique Parent and Dayna McMillan. Lori Penner/RED RIVER VALLEY ECHO
It’s one thing to study a language in a classroom, but it’s an entirely different thing to be completely immersed in it.
Which is why W.C. Miller French Immersion instructor Dana Falk thought it would be a great idea for some of her Grade 10 students to participate in the 2014-2015 Manitoba/Québec Student Exchange Program.
The program pairs students from Manitoba and Québec who share the desire to master Canada’s official languages. It allows Quebecois students to live with Manitoba families and attend school in Manitoba from September to November. From February to April, Quebecois students and their families host a Manitoba student while they attend school in Québec.
“It’s a perfect way to expose students to a new language and culture,” says Falk. “This is the first time Miller has participated in the program and I’m so excited that our students have this opportunity.”
The three Québec students arrived Sept. 6 and have quickly found their place in various classes and extra-curricular activities.
Dominique Parent was paired with Altona student Dayna McMillan, Florence Thibodeau was paired with Altona student Ariel Klassen, and Marguerite Hémond was paired with Altona student Anika Toews.
They’ve spent time with one another and their families, and the Québec visitors are adjusting to speaking English wherever they go.
“It’s been so much fun, watching their reactions and seeing how far they’ve come, even in the short time since they arrived.”
At W.C. Miller, the six students involved in the program all attend the same school and spend time in the same community.
“But when our girls visit Québec in January, their experience will be a bit more challenging,” Falk says.
“Each of their twins comes from a different community, so they’ll be attending different schools and won’t be seeing each other. This is definitely going to be a huge character and language building experience for each of them.”
Marguerite says she has thoroughly enjoyed her stay in Altona so far.
“Anika’s family is very similar to mine, and her parents are really nice and very welcoming.”
Along with studying at Miller, she has also had an opportunity to spend quality time with Anika’s family, which included a scenic hike through the Pembina Valley and a day at the beach.
Dominique says she’s never been to Manitoba before, but finds many aspects of it similar to Québec.
“But this town is much smaller than mine,” she says. “And so is the school.”
Florence agreed, adding that while Altona is smaller than her home town in Québec, there is a much deeper sense of community here.
“Everyone seems to be more community-minded.”
“Yes, you can walk anywhere in town, and run into dozens of people you know. That’s very different from my town,” says Marguerite.
Florence says she is learning a lot about the local culture, and has even been attending church with her twin, Ariel Klassen and her family.
“Young people aren’t as involved in the church where I come from. It’s more for the parents in Québec.”
Their Altona twins say they have loved hosting the Québec girls, and can’t wait to visit their province in January.
“It feels kind of like a three month sleep over,” Dayna says. “It’s just been a lot of fun.”
All three Altona students admit they’re a little nervous about their visit to Québec next year.
“I’m sure it will be fun. We’ve all connected really well with our twins,” says Anika. “But we’ll be completely surrounded by French everywhere we go, so it will be a real test of how much we’ve learned.”
Ariel agrees. “I’m able to comprehend French very well, but to actually make conversation. That will be interesting.”
Falk says she’s proud of the students. “Our girls will be great ambassadors for Altona. I have no doubt about that. They will be very missed in class at Miller, but I’m so excited for them to have this experience. Getting that extra French exposure will definitely improve the way they understand it.
The exchange program gives each student a chance to earn a high school credit as well.
“They each have to create a journal and a portfolio about this experience, which I assess,” Falk says.
The French Immersion Program is steadily growing at Miller and in Border Land School Division. “In five years, the class will grow from 10 students to 19. That’s very exciting.”
Principal Jonathan Toews says it’s a tremendous opportunity for the students.
“It’s always our goal to create new learning opportunities for our students. This experience places them in an environment where they’re forced to use what they’ve learned,” Toews says.
“And to have three girls sign up the first time we try it is really great. It makes me proud for Miller and the French Immersion program.”