I have known Blake Ramsey for almost 10 years when he started teaching in French bilingual programs in New York City. I have watched him grow as an educator, impressed by his consistency and professionalism, as well as his dedication to French dual-language education. He has now embarked in a new mission, carrying the torch of French dual-language education even further, and joining the team at Fort Greene Preparatory Academy in Brooklyn for what promises to be one of the best French dual-language middle school programs in an American public school. Below are his answers to my questions.
Tell us a little bit about your background and interest in dual-language education and the French language:
Having extensively studied, worked and lived in France for about half of my life, French and American English run through my veins. My first encounters with the joys of bilingualism happened when I was a young child. My father was an Emmy Award winning newscaster which brought many possibilities to meet new people and explore unique places, above all, France. My opportunity to become bilingual was rare, especially being from Atlanta, Georgia originally. In the 80s and 90s bilinguals who were not of Spanish speaking origin were few and far between. My bilingualism set me apart, gave me confidence, and has been my link to the closest people in my life. I cultivated my language as an adolescent by frequently returning to France, and then as a young adult teaching in two Parisian High Schools, and studying in both Nantes and Paris, France at Université de Nantes and Université de Paris 3; La Sorbonne Nouvelle, respectively.
As a professional, it has been my mission to make bilingualism accessible to all. I want to change what used to be considered rare into a right. After finishing back-to-back masters degrees in History and Foreign and Second Language Acquisition at NYU, I was ready to dive right into the work. I first started at PS 58 in 2011 after meeting Marie Bouteillon, the founding French Dual Language Teacher of the first French DLP in NYC. I worked at PS 58 for 5 years teaching 4th and 5th Grade French Dual Language. I subsequently served in District 13 at PS 133 for 2 years as a 5th Grade French Dual Language Teacher and Literacy and French Dual Language Instructional Coach.
Expansion for French Dual Language Immersion proved difficult to ensure, so I set out to help create a pathway for families at the Boerum Hill School for International Studies. I had the distinct privilege collaborating with the magnificent Sarah Brooks who is also BHS’s founding French teacher. At BHS, I served as the Language Acquisition Instructional Coach, French Dual Language Coordinator and I taught 6th, 7th, 9th, and 10th Grade French Dual Language and Foreign Language classes.
You will be joining Fort Greene Prep's community in the Fall as their first French Dual Language Coordinator, what was it that attracted you to this new project and this school?
Indeed, I am thrilled to return to District 13 to serve under the leadership of Principal Paula Lettiere. It is an honor to be the founding French Dual Language Coordinator and Teacher in what will be my 4th school with the New York City Department of Education. When I initially reached out to Principal Paula Lettiere in March on the eve of the lockdown, my goal was to offer any support I could to her community as a collaborative partner. After speaking with her about her ideas for the program, I made sure to ask her if she had any openings. She described what I have been dreaming of for ages. She has both her head and heart in the right place and truly understands how the brain processes both information and emotion. She is a phenomenal pedagogue with over 20 years of experience working with virtually every setting imaginable. Even more impressive to me is the fact that she is the founding Principal of Fort Greene Preparatory Academy and is embarking on her 12th year as Building Leader. She has high expectations and big ideas for both students and teachers with a strong sense of practicality.
Principal Lettiere is committed to providing a true Dual Language experience for her students, families and teachers. She understands how to start not only programs, but also entire schools. As previously mentioned, She is the founding principal of Fort Greene Preparatory Academy. She knows that you have to start small, and that in order to break the rules, you first need to learn the rules. Therefore, the program design at Fort Greene Preparatory is based on research-based practices. As a French Dual Language Team, we want to equip our teachers and students with what they need to experience success. Principal Lettiere understands the necessity of reducing the margin of error as much as possible in order to intelligently and intelligibly reflect on best practices, so that next steps truly improve upon the initial ones.
What is the vision and the approach behind the new French dual-language program and how is the program going to be structured and who will teach it?
We are calling this initiative, “Carrying the Torch.” The expression means, “fighting or striving for a particular belief or movement to make sure it is not forgotten and continues to grow stronger.” This is our approach at Fort Greene Prep as we are committed to providing a true continuation for French DLP into Middle School. With 8 years of elementary DLP experience and 2 years in Middle School, I will serve as both French DLP Coordinator and Teacher, bringing my experience and invaluable lessons I’ve learned along the way.
I am not completely starting the Francophone movement in the school community as there is already an existing Francophone microcosm. I will be joined by Mr. Avram Kline who is a trilingual (Spanish, French, and English) Language Arts Teacher with over 15 years of experience. Our School’s Guidance Counselor is also Francophone and a certified French teacher. Finally, Principal Lettiere’s husband’s family is Canadian, so there is a personal tie to French within her own family.
With regards to how we are “carrying the torch,” my recipe for the successful integration of any Dual Language Program into an existing school community is through carefully blending the Goals of Dual Language Education and the School’s Mission and Vision. Below is my simple, three-step process.
- Start with The Goals of Dual Language Immersion:
The goals of dual language are for students to develop high levels of language proficiency and literacy in both program languages, to demonstrate high levels of academic achievement, and to develop an appreciation for and an understanding of diverse cultures. (Center of Applied Linguistics)
- Incorporate the School’s Mission and Vision:
Fort Greene Preparatory Academy is committed to providing an education of excellence that allows each student to develop intellectual independence, self-confidence and a sense of responsibility towards others both within the school and throughout the larger community.
The school will graduate future leaders, decision-makers and innovators empowered to solve the problems of the 21st Century. To meet this challenge, a rigorous inquiry-based curriculum will push students from foundational knowledge towards the problem solving and critical thinking necessary for success in college and beyond.
- Articulate the Mission and Vision of the School’s Dual Language Program;
At Fort Greene Prep, our French Dual Language Program aims to serve students who have completed a (K-5) DLP for their continuation of speaking and learning in two languages. Our program is also designed to serve Students with Special Needs and English Language Learners whose language proficiency meet our eligibility criteria. As a French Dual Language Team, our goal is to ensure a rigorous inquiry based curriculum that builds confidence in our students, so that all learners feel empowered to take intellectual risks in order to grow both inside and outside of the learning community. We believe that learning in language immersion is optimized when student interest, sense of value, and comfort zone are top priority when designing curricula. Our experience has shown us that this is achieved through thematic units of study, application of Equity in education and the usage Culturally Responsive Pedagogy.
Our program has the mindset of “strength through stability”. Dual Language Programs must have a target language and a partner language across subject area(s). At Fort Greene Prep, for every subject area taught in French, there is a partner language class taught in English. Additionally, we have tight horizontal alignment. Our students will have equal access to the target language and partner languages classes at the same frequency for the following subjects: Language Arts, Social Studies, Science with support in Math. Moreover, Dual Language Programs must have sensible vertical alignment so that students have the chance to achieve the Seal of Biliteracy once they are eligible. Fort Greene Prep’s DLP is based on the existing vertical alignment of Core Content Areas, and incorporates language objectives, just like in the elementary school setting.
What are some of the advantages that you foresee in a dual-language education at the middle school level?
My experience as a Dual Language Educator has shown me the amplitude of life-skills students acquire, even exclusive of the second language itself. Indeed, overall I have seen a huge difference in students’ tolerance of frustration heightened. Their organizational skills tend to be increased; DLP students are able to locate overarching themes that act as “connective tissue” between two seemingly unrelated concepts with greater ease. Students' problem solving skills are more advanced in autonomy. Finally and arguably, most importantly for Middle School, Dual Language Students tend to be more resourceful and emotionally resilient than their monolingual counterparts. Adding on a language doubles the amount of opportunities to experience success. At an age where human beings are going through rapid developmental change, the aforementioned skillsets make the experience much more manageable and balanced.
How can interested parents find out more about the program and sign up?
We are still accepting candidates for our incoming 6th grade cohort. We are offering seats every day. Interested applicants should apply to the school’s wait list on www.myschools.nyc. After which, Principal Lettiere can locate the applicants who meet our eligibility criteria to then formerly offer a seat.
Download a presentation of Fort Greene Prep’s new French Dual Language Program: Carrying the Torch
Join Blake Ramsey Principal Paula Lettiere, and myself on Wednesday, June 17 at 3:30 via Zoom
Join Zoom Meeting https://zoom.us/j/92659088300?pwd=K0ZwTTJWODBIRFlLeUIwcVg1K0gyUT09
"Carrying the Torch An Interview with Blake Ramsey about Fort Greene Prep’s new French Dual Language Program." Conducted by Fabrice Jaumont for NewYorkinFrench.net, June 15, 2020
Cover Photo: Daryan Shamkhali
Related article: New French Dual Language Program at Fort Greene Prep Academy