For the first time in the history of dual-language programs in New York, a graduation ceremony for the bilingual students of P.S. 58 and P.S. 84 took place on June 19 at the Consulate General of France hosted by Consul General Bertrand Lortholary, Antonin Baudry, Cultural Counselor to the French Embassy, and myself. There were 59 fifth grade students, their parents, their teachers and members of the French community in attendance to celebrate the end of the academic year as well as the graduation of the middle school bound students. The ceremony was the culmination of a wave of dual-language programs opening in New York and throughout the United States, often in response to parents and educators who devote themselves to bilingualism and the French language. Both schools represented received a seal of approval from the French Government, the Label FrancEducation.
A New Page is Turned
These students are the first cohort to have followed a bilingual education track in French and English since the beginning of their schooling, in 2007, in New York City public schools. The students come from P.S. 58, The Carroll School in Brooklyn, and P.S. 84, The Lilian Weber School on the Upper West Side. These pioneer schools in the field of French-English bilingual education have since been joined by six other schools in New York and many similar initiatives across the United States. A true bilingual revolution is underway and these schools are the standard bearers. The revolution is taking place in New York City public schools, where it is now possible to be educated in French and English in several public schools in the city from kindergarten through sixth grade, soon up to eighth grade, and one day up to high school.
Launched in 2007 with a class of 24 students in Brooklyn, the bilingual system in New York City, as of September 2013, will include eight public schools (two middle schools and six elementary schools) serving more than 1,000 students. Often designed under the leadership of French parents, bilingual classes offer an important option for Francophone families. These programs are designed not only for French families who emigrate to New York for both long or short periods of time, but also to meet the needs of a growing number of Francophone immigrants who are learning English, and American families interested in a bilingual education or the French language.
The Many Actors Involved
The French Embassy, in collaboration with several U.S. foundations, the New York City Department of Education, as well as parent associations such as Education Française à New York (EFNY) has worked to open bilingual classes in New York City public schools since 2005. In total, nearly 2,000 children in New York receive some form of instruction in French in public schools. To this figure, one must add the 3,000 students who continue their education in French in private institutions in the region. To succeed, these programs need a strong tripartite partnership: a strong commitment by the administration of the school, highly qualified and dedicated teachers, and constant parental involvement at all levels. Schools with bilingual classes also benefit from the diversity of the population they serve and the diversity of faculty—capable of integrating linguistic and cultural differences into their teaching. It is important to also note the importance of subsidies from the French government, in particular the FLAM funds, those of the Senate, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Education, as well as grants from several U.S. foundations and societies such as the Société des Professeurs Français et Francophones d’Amérique, and individual donations that support and enable the development of this movement.