French Dual Language Program to Serve Immigrants in Underserved Boroughs

A mural at the entrance to PS 84.  Photo: Flicker.com/edenpictures

A mural at the entrance to PS 84.
Photo: Flicker.com/edenpictures

NEW YORK. – The French language has long been a source of pride among the French population, both those at home and abroad. Recently, New York City has seen a surge in support and funding for bilingual French-English programs, geared to both introduce American students to French language and culture and assist francophone immigrant populations in easing into the American school system while maintaining a connection to their own culture.  Eight schools across Manhattan and Brooklyn currently offer language immersion programs, teaching nearly all subjects in both French and English, alternating between languages on subsequent days.

The advocates behind these new French bilingual programs stem from two places: the local communities and the French Embassy. Public School 84, a bilingual elementary school on the Upper West Side, was started by a group of interested parents. The parents had collaborated on an idea of opening a French dual language program in February of 2008, and by May had gathered demographic information and statements of interest from over 100 families in the neighbor. By September of the same year, PS 84 had integrated the bilingual program into two grades, which expanded to the rest of the school over subsequent years.

The French Consulate is very supportive of these cultural grass-roots movements.  In addition to its direct support of the programs through grants and seed money, the French Consulate in New York has worked together with various cultural programs such as the French-American Culture Exchange to create a crowd-sourcing platform to raise money for the bilingual school system. The program seeks to expand the bilingual curriculum to more schools, specifically at the middle and high school level, as well as provide better teachers and more bilingual material such as French-English books to current institutions. Between December 5, 2013 and January 10, 2014, the campaign received $11,626 dollars, earning not only funds but also the attention of the New York Times and various francophone publications.

Part of the reason for this financial push is the under-representation of low-income immigrant neighborhoods in the dual-language program. Though the New York French-American Charter is able to serve a number of francophone communities in Harlem, the school receives many more applications than it can accept. And because both public and charter schools give admissions preference to children zoned for the school, the location of the schools within underserved neighborhoods is paramount.

Similarly, the principle of PS 84 told the New York Times that each year they receive hundreds of applications for the 18-person bilingual kindergarten course, prompting them to open a second class this past year to accommodate demand.  Interestingly, many of these applications also come from nonnative speakers, making it more difficult to serve the estimated 20,000 French youth immigrants living in New York City.

The French Consulate in New York as well as accompanying associations have expressed the desire to expand the program into other boroughs, particularly the number of North African communities in Queens and the Bronx. The program already has a sizable foothold in Brooklyn, where large numbers of more wealthy French and francophone individuals have settled, earning the region around Carroll Gardens the nickname of “Little Paris.”

A movement in Astoria, Queens is under way to bring a bilingual program to the neighborhood, hoping to draw interest from the local community as well as other boroughs, where French families might have previously moved, just because of the presence of bilingual programs. An Astoria residential mother is driving the movement, recognizing the advantages that come from being raised bilingual from her own Spanish upbringing.

While 21 dual-language programs are currently offered in Queens, none of them are in French, concentrating almost exclusively on Spanish and Chinese with one Korean program. The New York Department of Education offers grants of up to $20,000 for Dual Language and Transitional Bilingual Education programs. To apply for a grant, neighborhoods need only to form a minimum quorum of 12 parents of English language learners looking to implement the same language program. Because most elementary dual language programs consist of a 50-50 partition of native and non-native English speakers in the classroom, it is also helpful to appeal to parents interested in enrolling their English-speaking children in a language program.

This is the eventual goal of the prospective French program in Astoria, who is reaching out to not only the Department of Education but also the French Consulate for support, keen upon the idea of enriching the French language and culture in not only the immigrant population but also in non-native speakers.

French is the fourth most spoken language in the United States with over 1.3 billion speakers.

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  1. […] French dual language program to serve immigrants in under-served boroughs. The French language has long been a source of pride among the French population, both those at home and abroad. Recently, New York City has seen a surge in support and funding for bilingual French-English programs, geared to both introduce American students to French language and culture and assist francophone immigrant populations in easing into the American school system while maintaining a connection to their own culture.  Eight schools across Manhattan and Brooklyn currently offer language immersion programs, teaching nearly all subjects in both French and English, alternating between languages throughout the week. […]

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