With globalization a fact, and cultural diversity an ever-increasing reality, New York’s public schools have opened themselves up to the learning of foreign languages but also to the teaching of traditional core content areas in a language other than English. According to the New York Department of Education, students who will speak a second language will be better prepared to succeed in a multicultural world and will be able to preserve their cultural heritage. Since 2005, new programs in the French language have emerged en force in the public schools. The impetus that created the rapid success of these programs is a result of the synergy between multiple partners—French, Francophone, and Francophile. These actors have offered an alternative to parents who seek not only to offer an economically feasible solution for a dual English-French education, but also a more diverse choice in their children’s education.
In September 2009, six New York public schools will open their doors to bilingual classes (French-English). The schools are PS125 (Harlem), PS58 (Caroll Gardens - Brooklyn), PS73 (Bronx), CIS22 (Bronx), andPS84 (Upper West Side), and PS151 in Woodside (Queens). In the Fall of 2009, these schools will open a total of 19 classes, serving more than 500 students. In just two year’s time the programs increased enrolment nine-fold! These immersion classes in French and English are geared toward Francophones, Anglophones and bilingual students, as well as students who speak little or no English. Each individual school assures its own individual enrolment. These classes join more than 70 other dual language programs (Spanish, Chinese, Russian, Haitian Creole and Korean) financed by the city of New York.
How to start a program?
Usually, a small group of parents initiate the process and posts announcements, flyers, blogs in their neighborhood. Example: Parents in Williamsburg/Greenpoint are seeking to open a French-English Dual Language Program in the Fall of 2009. They posted information on yahoo groups, in restaurants and shop windows, and kept an list of emails.
Here is their message:
"District 14 public school seeking 8-10 native French Speaking and 8-10non-native families with children entering kindergarten in September2009 or 2010 to create a dynamic French - English Dual Language Program. If you are interested to learn more about this program as well as a French after school programthis is the place to show your interest and support. Parent(s) name/ Child name/ year entering K/ Email/ Address/ Phone/ Zone/ district/ Notes (exposure to french, categories: 1 - Anglophone, 2 - half-francophone (understands and speaks a little french but fluent in english) and 3 - Francophone (fluent in French but not in english)"
Their next step was to get support and expertise from various partners such as Education Francaise a New York Parents and other EFNY volunteers play a key role. They identify potential host schools and work with school personnel to explore the possibility of creating a dual-language program. EFNY coordinates this work, promotes the benefits of dual-language instruction, demonstrates the demand for such programs to the DOE, and, in general, encourages the opening of new programs. www.efny.net
These parents also received support from the French Embassy's Cultural Services which provide them with a letter of support stating that France will provide the text books and offer trainings and workshops for the teachers.
With a list of interested parents in hand, plus expertise from community organizations such as EFNY, and logistical support from the French Embassy this group of parents is now ready to approach school principals in the vicinity.
Selecting the right school is a tricky road. Often, popular schools do not have space for a new program such as a dual-language program which takes up two classrooms, and an additional two each year, depending on the model chosen by the school.
Some schools will have the same teacher teach both English and French. Other schools will use two teachers, one for English the other for French. Students will switch classrooms depending on the language. The morning may be spent in English, the afternoon in French. Some schools will use the same language for the day. Sometimes, it's the least popular school in the neighborhood which will be the most receptive. For the principal, the new program is a chance to bring some change in his school. The school population might be shrinking, so is the school budget, and the principal seek new ways to attract new families. French is appealing. And the families who seek French are very motivated and will participate in the school's life. This is a great advantage for the principal. And for our group of parents.
Before they make a decision the Principal will want to see that there is interest in his community and outside. Several assemblies need to be held, and special events too to attract families from outside. Parents in Queens organized a movie screening for kids and a small get-together for parents. They also met or kept in touch regularly with the families who showed interest. Once a principal is moving towards making a decision the focus shifts to finding teachers. Here too EFNY or the French Embassy or the Department of Education can become a good support. The DOE will also give a small grant to the school ($25, 000) to help with planning. The French Embassy will offer its support too such as buying $10,000 worth of school books or sending teachers to France for training over the summer.
Now all the ingredients are in place to make this program happen in your neighborhood!
Feel free to post questions and leave comments – in English or French – below.