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And This Is How Grade 1 Started (With the First “WTF Moment” Of the Year)

Mark’s notebook, September 4, Ottawa

Mark P… It’s gotta be you. You’re in this class.”

For kids, summer ended on September 5, just after Labour Day. Mark transitioned to Grade 1 in the same K-12 school where he completed two years of kindergarten and he earned the right to play in a different muddy yard.

There’s one big change this year, though—Mark is in a French program.

Last June, the school presented us with a dilemma. Future first graders could attend the English program with core French (i.e. classes in English) but for a year only because the program would no longer be offered in September 2019. The other popular option was the early French immersion program, with 80% of classes taught in French.

You could logically assume that a native French speaker and mother of a child who doesn’t speak French would jump on the French immersion opportunity. Well, honestly, I’m not sold on French-language instruction in Ontario. Case in point, my parents couldn’t believe that for the past two years, Mark was in a 50% English and 50% French program. Neither could I—around April, after a year and a half of French, Mark did ask me what “merci” meant.

I was really hoping Mark would learn French at school in a formal setting then practice at home with me. After a year of “early French immersion”, I finally understood that kids don’t actually learn French—they are supposed to learn in French. So basically, the school system assumes that at one point, all of a sudden, it will click and voilà, French speakers.

It definitely did not click for Mark.

His biggest achievement was to butcher a couple of French nursery rhythms and he has no idea what they are about. He learned more French in six weeks in France than in two years at school.

“Don’t worry,” my dad laughed. “If all his classmates ‘speak’ French like him, he will be just fine. And by that, I mean the school system will have to seriously reconsider French instruction.”

So, Mark joined the rest of his classmates who don’t speak French but really should.

French started the minute school did.

Allez allez, on y va!” the teacher suggests with an encouraging smile.

“What is she saying?” a kid mutters.

“I have no idea,” his dad replies. “But pay attention!”

Yeah, that French immersion thing is going to go well, I can feel it…

“Why are you still here, mommy?”

“Do you want me to go?”

“Huh… maybe not yet.”

“That’s what I thought.”

Some kids look happy to be here, others not so much. Instinctively, they all line up against the wall. It’s a hot September morning, most of them are in shorts and t-shirts. I note how tall Mark is this year. Must be the French cheese and pains au chocolat.

Suivez-moi! Par ici!”

The kids look totally puzzled. I have a special thought for the teacher who will likely talk to herself for the next few months, then I walk away.

Mark is holding the door for his classmates. I wave goodbye but he doesn’t see me.

I forgot to remind him to ask if he needs to go to the bathroom, to eat his lunch and to pay attention to the teacher.

Maybe he doesn’t need the reminder anymore but I’m fully prepared to give it to him until university.

“You guys both came to pick me up?”

Yes, we did. Sounds like the kind of things parents do on the first day of school. Mark forgot his lunch box in the classroom so we go get it. In the hallway, there’s a police officer and a couple of teachers. “So which kid is missing?” Feng and I exchange a worried look and follow Mark as closely as we can.

I check the lunch box to see if Mark enjoyed his “nutrition break”—no kidding, that’s how the school calls it (classes are “instructional blocks”). There are a couple of flyers inside.

“We’re going to get hot dogs!” Mark announces.

A school BBQ, already?

Mark hands me a flyer.

What the actual fuck.

Remember when I was making fancy lunch boxes for daycare because they had a microwave and kids actually had a proper lunch break? A few of you joked that I should sell these lunch boxes.

Well, someone did. I’m looking at the school version of Uber Eats, the school version of “hey guys, I’m gonna get take out, anyone wants something?”

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Now, I’m not blaming the business-savvy person who came up with the concept nor the busy parents who sign up for it.

But how fucked up is it to see companies advertising in schools?

How fucked up is it when you get a different flyer every day for such services like we did last week?

How fucked is it to lead kids to believe they could totally have cool lunches if mommy and daddy would sign up for the service?

Very fucked up.

“So I’m not getting hot dogs?”

“Nope. What did you write on your notebook in French? Je suis en première année… Cool!”

“Yeah. Mommy… what does it mean?”


One of the flyers from thelunchlady.ca
Mark’s notebook, September 5, Ottawa
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French woman in English Canada.

Exploring the world with my camera since 1999, translating sentences for a living, writing stories that may or may not get attention.

Firm believer that nobody is normal... and it’s better this way.

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