LAFAYETTE — Fifty-eight Paul Breaux Middle School students received special diplomas from the French Ministry of Education on Monday, recognizing their proficiency in writing, speaking, listening and reading in the French language.
“It shows that they have the competencies we have as French speakers,” said Philippe Aldon, attaché of the Cooperation and Cultural Service for the consulate general of France in New Orleans. “It gives value to what they have learned, what they are. It shows that school can enable you to receive fluency in a foreign language.”
For the students, the recognition comes after nine years of French immersion studies in the Lafayette Parish school system. A total of 62 eighth-graders completed French immersion studies and were recognized during a graduation ceremony Monday at the Vermilion Conference Center.
Fifty-eight of the students received a “diplôme d’études en langue française” to recognize their proficiency as non-native French speakers in learning the language. Three chose not to undergo an assessment required to receive the diploma while the fourth is waiting until summer to be assessed.
Molly Medez is one of 24 French immersion students whose proficiency in the language placed her in French IV classes at Lafayette High, where she’ll continue her French studies as a freshman in August. The course is typically taken by high school seniors.
Mendez, 14, said she continued in the immersion program because she views it as a privilege.
“I love French and the aspect of being able to know a second language,” she said. “My grandparents spoke it.”
Mendez’s parents said that’s part of the reason why they decided to place her and her sister, 12, in French immersion.
Seven of Molly’s nine cousins are all in the program, said Pam Mendez, her mother.
“My parents spoke French and we didn’t learn it,” said Pam Mendez.
The Lafayette Parish School System also has immersion programs in Spanish and Mandarin Chinese.
As part of the Lafayette Parish school system’s French immersion program, students begin their language studies as early as kindergarten and have the option to continue through the eighth grade. In high school, students have access to three more advanced French language courses.
The French immersion program in the parish began 20 years thanks to advocacy among parents who wanted their students to learn the heritage language, said Sandy LaBry, Lafayette Parish school system supervisor of foreign language.
The diploma validates the work that others placed in the program in the past 20 years, said Sonya Lacomb-Boudreaux, president of the Alliance Française de Lafayette, a local chapter of the international French language organization.
The chapter is one of only 11 administrators of the test in the U.S., said Loretta Theriot, coordinator of the Alliance Française de Lafayette.
The Lafayette Parish French immersion students and 20 others at the International School of Louisiana in New Orleans were among the first in the U.S. to take the assessment. The students’ 100 percent pass rate caught the attention of the French Embassy in Washington, D.C., Aldon said. At least 10 other states are now considering offering the assessment to their students, he said.
Students’ success translates to a strong immersion program, Aldon said.
“It means immersion programs in Louisiana are doing a good job,” he said. “It means the job was done because not all of these kids are immersed at home in the French environment. It’s encouraging.”
Alson said about 10 percent to 20 percent of students who take the assessment fail it. He said he’d like to see more French immersion programs in the state offer the assessment.
“We would like to be able to test in each parish to demonstrate it is working and it is world quality education,” Aldon said.
Federal grant dollars helped pay for students’ exam in 2011 and for the upcoming school year, but a funding source will need to be identified to continue assessing the students, said Nicole Boudreaux, lead immersion teacher for Lafayette Parish.
Theriot said the exam is $125 per student. She said the assessment is available to the public on June 13 and June 14. For more information, call (337) 261-1002 or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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