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Multilingual learning opens many doors, says Nicola Abrioux-Camirand

The following article was written by Jacqueline Louie and published in the Calgary Herald on February 8th, 2024

At Calgary French & International School (CFIS), a private French language immersion and International Baccalaureate (IB) school, students start as early as age two and continue through Grade 12.

“You see them become these incredible human beings over the course of their journey,” says CFIS head of school Nicola Abrioux-Camirand, who has been an educator for three decades and is in her 15th year at CFIS.

Born in Regina, Abrioux-Camirand, 51, grew up in Edmonton and Athabasca. She earned a bachelor of education from the University of Alberta. At the University of Calgary’s Faculty of Education, she added a diploma in educational psychology and a master of education in second language acquisition. She has also completed an advanced leadership institute diploma from Canadian Accredited Independent Schools.

Q. How would your best friend describe you? 

A. Hard working, passionate and dedicated.

Q. What three things could you not live without? 

A. My family, the mountains and my travel trailer.

Q. What would your students or staff be surprised to learn you like to do in your personal time or on a day off?

A. Paddle boarding on a lake in the mountains.

Q. Was there a formative experience that started you down the path to education?

A. My dad was a university professor and we moved to France for a year when he went on sabbatical. I completed Grade 10 in France. It was a turning point in who I was going to be and what I was going to do. My eyes were opened to the world and the doors that bilingualism can open.

Q. Tell me about the most influential teacher you have worked with?

A. A superintendent at a francophone school board I worked with earlier in my career (at a public school in Airdrie) had a huge impact on me as a teacher and as a leader in a public school. He had this vision of the francophone division offering the International Baccalaureate program, and I saw how the program really helped students develop the skills to address complex challenges and consider multiple viewpoints and perspectives. His vision, support and encouragement, and the opportunities he provided to me as well as to other teachers, evolved our teaching.

Q. What is the biggest challenge you face at school this year? 

A. We are seeing more and more families coming to Calgary, many who are new to Canada. They are wanting to give their children the gift of being able speak both of Canada’s official languages, but they worry about the impact of a French immersion program in an environment where they might have another language at home, and the child is also still learning English. For us, it’s providing them with support and undoing some myths about French immersion — including, for example, connecting them with research from Canadian Parents for French — and helping them see that we want them to continue speaking their language at home. Over the course of their journey with us, in a multilingual environment, the child will learn French and English, and there will not be any detriment to their learning English because taking French immersion often feeds English language skills.

Q. What do you wish people knew about your school and students?

A. Our students are strong and confident communicators in three languages: French, English and Spanish.

Our students have recognized international proficiency in the French language, and they have doors open to them in multiple pathways when applying to post-secondary institutions, including English-speaking, French-speaking and bilingual universities nationally and internationally.

In Alberta, we offer the earliest entry point to French immersion and, in Calgary, we are the only high school to offer full French immersion in all academic courses. We are affiliated with the IB program, and we are also affiliated with the Round Square network, which allows students to do exchanges with over 200 schools in 50 countries.

It is about excellent academics, and we do that, while still having a focus on students being happy. You can feel when you walk in the doors that these kids are loved, and they grow up with that.

This story was written for Private Schools, a special feature created by Content Works, Postmedia’s commercial content division.