Fabrice Jaumont charts the rise French-English dual-language programs
Two New York City public schools have been selected by the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs to receive the newly created FrancEducation Label which recognizes their outstanding efforts to promote and develop the French language. These schools, PS58 in Brooklyn and PS84 in Manhattan, will join a select group of eight schools worldwide to receive this prestigious honor. The Label (pronounce it like ¨La Belle¨) FrancEducation is a formal accreditation provided to schools that offer a French bilingual program without following the French National curriculum. These schools will benefit from this official recognition by the French government, as it is a public endorsement of their achievements. The FrancEducation Label will also provide additional access to such resources as teacher development programs, special grant programs, and partnership opportunities.
For me, this is especially good news as this officially recognizes the French bilingual revolution that has taken place in New York City and other urban centers in the U.S. over the past eight years. In New York, there are six regular public elementary schools and one public charter school that offer French-English education beginning in kindergarten. There is also one middle school that will host a French bilingual program in Fall 2013 in Brooklyn. Additionally, there are currently eleven private schools offering education in French from pre-K through high school, and an increasing number of impressive early childhood centers offering French. This is a considerable accomplishment amidst the widespread decline in the availability of foreign language instruction in elementary and middle schools nationwide, especially in schools serving families of lower socioeconomic status.
There are more than 130 public schools in 27 states and 80 cities that offer instruction in both French and English in the U.S. These include French immersion bilingual programs for non-French speakers and dual-language education programs for both Francophones and Anglophones. Both of these programs are offered in public and charter schools. Additionally, there are 50 bilingual programs in private schools that serve mainly expatriate families but also include local families who can pay the often high tuition fees. Finally, there are other forms of home language support for Francophone students, including French Heritage Language programs for Francophone students in public schools and community-based organizations.
Hopefully, the Label will encourage the creation of more French bilingual and dual-language programs in the U.S. The involvement of multiple partners, from the departments of education to schools to families and community organizations is of critical importance in developing these programs. In New York alone, there are more than 300,000 Francophones, and only 5,000 children are currently benefiting from a French bilingual education in public and private schools. Recent waves of immigrants from West Africa as well as from Haiti represent a significantly increased Francophone presence in New York, and other urban centers, including Miami and Boston, although much of this growth remains largely hidden in official statistics. Combined with a significant demand from French expatriate and American families for access to bilingual public elementary and middle school programs, these newer French-speaking communities can help to mobilize support for bilingual school programs in French and English, programs that are so essential to the long-term survival of these bilingual communities.
In addition to the two New York City public schools that were chosen for the first year of the Label program, four schools in the Czech Republic, one school in Finland, and one school in New Zealand will also participate. To apply for the accreditation, schools have to meet rigorous criteria including a minimum of 33 percent of subjects taught in French, highly-qualified and certified teachers who need to be fluent in French, a strong professional development plan and a commitment to quality education, participation in official language tests, an environment that fosters an interest for all things French, and a library with books in French.
PS84 has approximately 125 bilingual students in its French program, and is located in Manhattan on 92nd Street and Central Park West. The school offers a French dual-language program with 50 percent of tuition time in French. It will be offering a 5th grade class in September 2012. PS58 in Carroll Gardens Brooklyn has 250 bilingual students in its French dual-language program with 50 percent of teaching time in French. The school will also open a 5th grade in September. Students in both French programs have scored extremely well in the 3rd Grade standardized tests, both in Math and English Language Arts. This echoes Yudhijit Bhattacharjee’s recent New York Times article, “Why Bilinguals are Smarter.” Parents from both schools are also working on opening a middle school program in their neighborhood.
There is strength in numbers. As more grades are added each year and more schools are offering these programs in New York City and other places, the critical mass of learners and teachers in the field will receive closer attention from school authorities, editors and researchers alike.
Fabrice Jaumont is the founder of NewYorkinFrench.net — an online platform that serves the French-speaking community of New York and its extended surroundings. He is also an education attaché at the French Embassy’s New York headquarters. He is the co-author, with Jane F. Ross, of Building Bilingual Communities: New York’s French Bilingual Revolution published in Garcia O., Zakharia Z., Bahar Otcu G. Bilingual Community Education for American Children : Beyond Heritage Languages in a Global City. Multilingual Matters : New York. 2012. New York’s French public and private schools are featured on NewYorkinFrench.net.