Fabius Visits a French-English Bilingual School in New York

On Monday, September 23, Laurent Fabius, French Foreign Affairs Minister, visited PS 58 in Brooklyn, a bilingual French-English program that opened in 2007 and presently welcomes about 350 children. 8 schools have opened since then with the help of Fabrice Jaumont, education attaché at the French Embassy in New York.

For years, Jaumont has been working with parents, helping them establish bilingual programs in public schools in New York. To them, he has become the symbol of what he himself calls a “bilingual revolution.” He says that in the past decade, there has been a “boom” in bilingual programs, after years of doubt put the utility of a bilingual education in question. In modern terms, it has become “trendy” to be speak several languages, and there is “less of a stigma” over these programs.

The French official has been engaged in a pursuit to give French-speaking families in New York access to affordable bilingual education. His commitment swells beyond the expatriate community. The majority of the 100,000 French speakers in the New York are not French. And, most importantly, “22 000 of them are kids from age 0 to 17,” a number technically justifying the existence of approximately 50 schools in New York. In light of this data, Jaumont has prodded parents, at the heart of the effort, to contact schools interested in supporting the initiative to increase access to an affordable, bilingual education. Parents hope to solicit the support of other institutions with the backing of the Jaumont and the Department of Education to increase access to this type of education.

Contributing to the growing wave of support for bilingual education, Andrew Clark, an associate professor of French and Comparative Literature at Fordham University, welcomes these programs. He “always admired the way children pick up languages and the opportunities this gives these children.” He said that he was “keenly aware, as one who teaches French to college students, of the challenges of learning languages after one is no longer a child.” He and other parents have focused their efforts on a few downtown schools, where they received “varying degrees of enthusiasm.”

Some parents, such as Adrienne Berman, have taken up projects together. Berman has been “actively writing to principals of schools in the Upper East Side to find a willing partner” but has not “identified a principal who is amenable to a French program.” In her approach, she highlights the education as an advantage to American children not as solely a service to French expatriates. Since Berman lived and studied in Paris, pursuing studies in Linguistics and lecturing at Paris 10 University, her academic background grounds her belief in the importance of language learning for the development of the brain and social skills.

“The schools should be taking the lead in bringing language learning to communities,” Berman states. She fears that children today “will not be as competitive as adults if they are monolingual” in an increasingly globalized and interconnected world. As someone who used to work for Médecins sans Frontières and the Peace Corps, she strongly believes “the bilingual and bicultural children of today will be at the vanguard of crisis management in the years to come.”

However, significant funding is required for the successful implementation of these programs. Jaumont highlights how many of the parents he partners with are of middle-class or lower middle-class backgrounds. He had hoped some support would come from the French government itself. Recalling President Hollande’s speech in New York in 2012 where Hollande conveyed his expectation of French expatriates to contribute to the economic development of France, many expatriates believe France should provide “reciprocal support” for initiatives in the U.S. that advance French culture and language abroad.

However, Jaumont never supported the funding of private schools by only the French government, as he was convinced that the New York programs should be buoyed by local initiatives in the U.S. Many expatriates wanted to wait on their former government to supply money. A local and pragmatic approach to funding encourages the integration of American and French educational desires, rather than the imposition of bilingual education by the French State. Jaumont believes that “it is more efficient and smarter to think that the money will come from New York.” Fundraising and local campaigns seem to be the most viable sources of financial support to him.

Jaumont is also seeking out underserved neighborhoods with large concentrations of francophone people. Those groups are either in the Haitian communities of Queens, in Brooklyn, or in the Senegalese pockets of Harlem. Moreen Tonny, an intern at the French Embassy, is joining Jaumont in the underserved neighborhoods because of her personal experience. She received a bilingual French-English education in Haiti, and she’s convinced that “it really made a difference in [her] academic performance.” When she started working with Mr. Jaumont, she realized that “the Haitian community was not participating in these programs, as well as “many other francophone communities from the Caribbean and Africa.”

Mr. Jaumont and those supporting the education cause have made the strength of their commitment clear. Those who fight for the right of children to learn both languages in public schools don’t compose a new French aristocracy that would base itself upon a late colonial model. The bilingual phenomenon in New York encompasses people who want their children children to learn French and non-native French speakers. The movement champions the potential of French culture and language when in a mutually beneficial partnership with other cultures and languages.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: