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When your third language becomes your first

Al Mothanna Karfoul, 17, with Premier Wade MacLauchlan at École François-Buote.

Imagine immigrating from Abu Dhabi to Charlottetown in Grade 8, having spoken English and Arabic, and being totally immersed in a third language, French. Imagine culture shock combined with adolescence and that’s what Al Mothanna Karfoul felt.

“My Mom said, ‘you will hate it now, but you will love me for it later, French will open up many doors for you,” Karfoul, now 17 and a Grade 12 student at École François-Buote, said. Four years later Karfoul, now fluent in French, spoke eloquently – after performing with the band - before a large crowd at the school’s grand opening celebration.

“The teachers here helped me a lot, it was hard at first,” he said. Karfoul’s parents, both engineers originally from Syria, had been raising their family in Abu Dhabi where Al Mothanna attended an international school before coming to Prince Edward Island and École François-Buote.

Construction on the school and community began in 1991. By 2012, the school population had grown to 300 students, leading to an expansion that finished in 2015. With a $10 million investment from the provincial and federal governments, the expansion resulted in 54,000 square feet–two new classrooms and a trades technology section for technical education, carpentry, motor vehicle repair and welding, with a new high school wing, expansion of the gym and cafeteria, a new science lab and a new music room -- including 12,000 square feet for the community.

Government will continue to invest in French language education and community spaces through the upcoming renovation and expansion of École la Belle Cloche in Rollo Bay.
French first language enrollments have more than doubled on PEI, up from 609 students in 1999 to 1,698 today.

Karfoul is happy his parents made the decision to enroll him at École François-Buote. He plans to follow their paths and become an engineer. He has applied to several Canadian universities. Wherever he ends up, he is ready, he says, because of the education he has received here in Charlottetown.

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