When French immersion was first introduced on the Port-au Port Peninsula in Newfoundland in 1975, many people may have thought it was a passing fad destined to blossom and fade with time. Almost twenty years later, however, interest in the program does not appear to be waning. On the contrary, from 1975 to 1993, Newfoundland's enrolment has grown to 4,928 students with 43 schools and 13 of the province's 27 school boards offering the program. At the national level, enrolment has gone from one school in St. Lambert, Québec in 1965 with approximately 25 pupils to an estimated 291,650 students across Canada in 1992-93.

Along with the rapid growth and popularity of French immersion there have been many challenges and changes with which the program has had to contend. The student population has evolved, teachers have had to adjust strategies and principals have gained new experience coping with the particular demands of the program. To ensure the future success of immersion programs, it is essential that these challenges and changes be recognized and understood.

In terms of the immersion students, there have been marked challenges and changes. During the early years of the program, evaluations indicated that immersion students were coping very well with the demands of the program and were, in many cases, out-performing their English counterparts even in English Language Arts! However, as immersion programs grew in popularity and size, a broader, more academically average, group of students began to fill the classroom seats. Before long, administrators, teachers and researchers began to realize that the initial immersion students had been primarily a very select group from middle and upperclass backgrounds with strong support for education in the home and often with above-average cognitive abilities. Gradually teachers began to notice that there were more and more immersion students having difficulty coping with the special demands of the program, needing remedial assistance and, in some cases, even with learning disabilities. The change in the student population was noted in the provincial Department of Education's report on the Evaluation of French Immersion Programs for 1990-91 which concluded that there appeared to be a decline in the level of cognitive abilities of students entering early French immersion.

The problem for these students who do experience difficulties coping with the demands of the program is that there often is little remediation and very few psychological or guidance support services designed specifically for them. The initial publicized success of immersion obscured the need for such services and it is only now that the problem is coming to the forefront. For French immersion students in need of a guidance counsellor, speech pathologist or educational psychologist, there is seldom one available who can provide a service in French. Particularly for French immersion students in the primary grades, this lack of services can present problems. An elementary student can be tested in English but a primary student who has been learning French until Grade three cannot be assisted so readily. A further complication is that the presence of learning disabilities or deficiencies in immersion students may well go undetected and be attributed to the student's efforts to cope with the new language.

A solution to this problem might be to screen students for entry to the program. In the case of early French immersion which has an entry point of Kindergarten, there is presently no initial screening to determine if those enroling may later experience learning problems. This is largely because there are few guidelines on which to base decisions related to screening. Furthermore, there is, as yet, no accurate way of predicting whether a child will have more difficulties in the French immersion program than in the regular one. Instruments which might serve to screen for disabilities before entry to immersion programs cannot always be interpreted properly. Simply screening students on the basis of cognitive ability would only add fuel to the argument that immersion programs are elitist and would not, in any event, be completely effective in determining the candidates most likely to succeed in or benefit from the program.

The late immersion program does use screening methods but at this level, there is a stronger argument in favour of their use. The late immersion program has an entry point of Grade 7 and compared with the early immersion program, takes a more intellectual or academic approach to language learning which works best with high achieving, motivated, older learners. Also, the late immersion programs particularly in St. John's are highly contingent on numbers and enrolments are, in many cases, limited. It is also easier to screen a student of junior high age because of the availability of instruments but also because the student has a record of achievement that can be consulted. For these reasons, screening is necessary and possible for the late immersion program. Nevertheless, in spite of the screening methods employed, teachers are still noticing that there is a increasing number of students of average ability entering the program. Unfortunately, there are few, if any, remedial services available to assist such students if they encounter problems coping with the particular demands of the program.

Challenges facing the student population have been paralleled by challenges for the teacher population. At present there are approximately 200 French immersion teachers in the province of which about 173 are teaching in the grades from Kindergarten to Grade six. Approximately 75 % of the teachers are graduates of the Faculty of Education of Memorial University. Because of the University's organization of teacher education programs, prospective teachers were often chosen from those trained in high school methodology. In fact, the majority of the French immersion teachers who graduated from Memorial's Faculty of Education completed a major in French and followed the secondary B.Ed. program. This program was the only one which allowed them sufficient course time for specialization in French. As a result, most of the teachers initially employed at the primary and elementary levels were high school trained. Their lack of training in primary and elementary methods caused some difficulties because such teachers were not trained to deal with the special needs of young children nor did they always possess a good understanding of the development of language in the young child.

Another challenge which teachers have had to face has been the need to adjust strategies in the French immersion classroom in order to improve students' accuracy in French. For many years, it was believed that students in immersion programs would just naturally "pick up" or "catch" French while they studied other subjects in French. Learning in the immersion program was meant to imitate learning in the natural environment in which students simply absorb their mother tongue without having to actually study it systematically or specifically. Gradually, teachers realized that this approach did not always yield the desired results and that immersion students were often not achieving adequate competency in French. It became obvious that new ways had to be found to fine-tune students' proficiency in the language.

Over time, many of the challenges facing teachers have been addressed. Initially, immersion teachers were recruited primarily based on their competence in French. It was not long however, before school boards and Memorial University began to realize that a strong preparation in methodology is equally important. For this reason there is now a special option for the preparation of French immersion teachers in the primary and elementary teacher training programs at Memorial. School boards have offered teachers opportunities to participate in in-services and institutes to improve their primary methodology.

As well, a specific pedagogy for French immersion has gradually been evolving for use by teachers. Experience and research has slowly led to a better understanding of the process of learning in the immersion classrooms, and a special second language methodology for immersion has gradually been developed. The wider implementation of the new methodology should help teachers in bringing about more effective results and a higher level of competency in French in their students.

Principals as well as teachers and students have had to face challenges and changes in the French immersion program. Principals have assumed responsibility for these programs often without much knowledge or training specific to the administration of immersion. They have faced heavy workloads involving such activities as answering parents' concerns, completing correspondence in French, becoming familiar with French programs, engaging in extra meetings, obtaining support services in French, promoting the program and procuring appropriate resource materials. For the principal of a dual-track school (one which offers both a regular and an immersion stream), the administrative workload can be even greater.

Implementation of initiatives such as resource-based learning in the French immersion program can sometimes be more difficult because time and resources may not be readily available in the necessary quantities. Appropriate curriculum resources, library resources, diagnostic tests and materials are often difficult to acquire. Curriculum guides in many subject areas have often been unavailable. As well, many French learning resources are more costly and time-consuming to order. These factors can complicate the principal's efforts at implementing new initiatives.

Principals must also respond to the particular needs of parents of children enroled in the school's French immersion program. French immersion parents play an active role in the life of the school but often experience uncertainty about the welfare of their child in a second language classroom. These parents can be very demanding and may expect a high degree of accountability. They want to be frequently reassured that their children are progressing normally and advised if their children are having problems, and may, as such, occupy a considerable amount of the principal's time. Allaying parents' fears can be a necessary but onerous task for the principal. Some parents may be concerned that their child will not get as good an education in the French immersion program as he/she would in the regular English program.

Parents are often quite convinced of the worth of the program and its "academic viability". It is perhaps for this reason that they may hold unrealistic expectations regarding what the program can effectively achieve. In spite of parents' beliefs, the French immersion program cannot make anglophone children as fluent as francophones. Nor can parents expect, in spite of the perceived success of the program, that all children will perform well and will not encounter problems. Parents' lack of knowledge and understanding about the program and its aims have actually led to many misconceptions about what French immersion can realistically achieve. These misconceptions can complicate the role of the principal who must often provide extra encouragement to parents whose children are experiencing difficulty with the program or are not achieving in accordance with parental expectations.

For principals, teachers and students, the French immersion program has presented its share of challenges and changes. At the same time, considerable progress has been made and the program's design, development and delivery have improved significantly over the years. While much has been accomplished, there is still more to be done and various jurisdictions all have a role to play in ensuring immersion's continued success.

One of these parties is Memorial University's Faculty of Education. The Faculty has approved, in principle, a French immersion option for the secondary program. The new secondary program being implemented in the fall of 1993 will offer teachers the opportunity to acquire a background in both French and a second academic discipline such as science or social studies. This new program is timely since the demographics of immersion are changing and it is likely that the changes will signal a rise in demand for a increased number and wider variety of courses taught in French at the high school level as well as a demand for trained teachers to deliver the courses. In the early 1980's, the bulk of the immersion population was in Kindergarten and the primary grades. In 92-93, the largest population was in grade seven. In 1989, there were only 66 students enroled in the senior high level. In 1992-93, there were 127 students and by the end of the nineties there could be as many as 450 students at the grade 12 level.

It is likely that the increased number of students at the senior high level will enable the Department of Education to authorize the development of an increased variety and number of courses. Presently, course descriptions for the French language arts program in the secondary school are nearing final development. In upcoming years, the Department must continue to be involved in nurturing the immersion program particularly at the senior high level because of changes in demographics. It should also continue to provide teachers with direction and guidance in finding ways of improving students' accuracy in French.

School boards also have an important role to play. In particular, they can provide special inservice sessions to teachers to assist them in detecting learning problems and disabilities in immersion students. They can also consider ways to provide special support and remedial services for immersion students who are experiencing difficulties with the program. As well, new principals and vice-principals of immersion schools may require special induction sessions to help them better understand the program. Boards can provide extra support and encouragement in the implementation of initiatives such as resource-based learning in immersion. As well, boards need to continue to provide information to parents regarding the aims of the program and regarding what parents' expectations should be in terms of the level of fluency that their child may achieve in the program. In particular, boards need to provide parents with sufficient information and advice to help them decide whether or not immersion is the best option for their particular child.

Immersion is not a passing fad. It now has a solid foothold in the landscape of education in this province. In spite of all its growing pains, the program is here to stay because it has undeniably met with great success and increasing popularity. A growing number of Newfoundland students are graduating from high school having benefitted from an enriched educational experience, possessing bilingual competencies and more appreciative and understanding of Canada's francophone culture. The year 1995 will mark the 20th anniversary of the program's beginnings in Newfoundland. For the future, immersion's continued success will depend on efforts to respond effectively and proactively to its unique changes and challenges.