Living in a predominantly English-speaking province can be isolating for many of B.C.’s francophone population and especially for young people living outside large metropolitan areas.
To combat that, a new program brought French-speaking high-school students from across the province together to build relationships and compete in a 24-hour health challenge during the weekend of Feb. 8 to 10, 2019.
Cloe Robert, a Grade 11 francophone student at Penticton Secondary School and one of the few French-speaking teenagers in her small Okanagan town, rarely has the opportunity to speak her native language outside of her home and school.
“It’s really fun to come to these events,” Robert said in French, “because I meet other francophones that are the same age and I can speak French with them, so that’s my favourite part of events like these.”
24-hour health challenge
The health challenge was created in response to the B.C. government’s recently administered “middle years development instrument,” a survey completed by fourth- and seventh-grade students across the province to examine areas of development linked to well-being and academic achievement.
Student teams were challenged to analyze the survey results from their own schools and then develop a project to address a pressing health problem. Twenty-four hours later, the teams had to present their ideas before a panel of judges, with the winning team from École des Sentiers-Alpins in Nelson, B.C., walking away with $500 to make their healthy breakfast project a reality.
Other initiatives aimed to address issues of low self-esteem, poor sense of school belonging and high stress levels and ranged from the creation of a virtual space to foster and maintain social connection in French across large geographical distances to a mentorship program.
David Patry-Smith, a participating student in Grade 10 at École des Pionniers in Port Coquitlam, said that it’s important for students to take a leadership role in improving their own health.
“It’s the students that make up the school, so it’s the students who need to take initiative to fix the problems that teachers cannot see,” he said in French.
Francophone community spread out across the B.C.
Only 1.4 per cent of the B.C. population — around 64,000 people — speaks French as their first language and, of that, the vast majority live either in the Lower Mainland or on Vancouver Island.
It is for that reason that Laurent St-Cyr, a main organizer and project officer with the Conseil jeunesse francophone de la Colombie-Britannique, says it is important to host activities like the 24-hour challenge because it allows young francophones to come together whether they live in Powell River, Nelson or Kelowna.
“The francophone community is very spread out throughout British Columbia, so it’s difficult for youth to have opportunities to meet other francophones and to have activities where they can hang out and have fun together,” he said.
St-Cyr added in French, “For the sustainability of French in British Columbia, it starts with young leaders like them who want to get involved, who want French activities and speak with other youth in French.”