Lafayette panel discusses foreign language immersion high school

Committee holds first meeting

Lafayette Parish school system foreign language immersion students could have an option to continue their immersion studies beyond middle school, if discussions to create a “world language immersion school” become a reality.

A committee of educators, businessmen and legislators is exploring the potential for a foreign language immersion high school in Lafayette that would offer foreign language immersion learning to students living inside and outside the parish. The committee’s work was mandated by Act 851 authorized by the Legislature last year to explore the feasibility of an immersion language school in Lafayette.

“The task of the committee is to create a set of desired features of the high school: the ideal curriculum, optimum size, which facilities would work best, but we also have to wrestle with the practical realities of resources,” said Jordan Kellman, committee chairman and dean of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette’s College of Liberal Arts.

The group had its first official meeting Friday, however, preliminary discussions have been ongoing in the past year, members said. Its report is due to the Senate and House Education Committees on March 31 and must include responses to issues such as location, structure, management, potential partnerships, curriculum. The report must include which languages will be offered, enrollment criteria, student enrollment size, faculty and staff needed, possibility of opening for 2014-15 school year and money needed to operate it.

Discussions Friday centered on the university being a partner in the school project with the parish school system operating and managing the school. A boarding school option —with housing available on the university campus — is also being considered to open enrollment to students outside the parish.

The project could be phased in at an existing location until a stand-alone facility could be built, said committee member Paula Carson, assistant president of institutional planning and effectiveness at ULL.

Carson said the university’s research park is an ideal location for a future school building.

The expense of starting up the project wasn’t fully discussed during Friday’s meeting.

Lafayette Parish Assistant Superintendent Sandra Billeaudeau said the school district spends about $624,000 annually to operate its Early College Academy, which opened in 2008 in partnership with South Louisiana Community College. The ECA students earn a high school diploma and associate’s degree and take all their classes on SLCC’s campus.

The foreign language immersion high school group discussed starting the school within an existing school, however, Billeaudeau encouraged the group to consider creating a “unique” space for students, which will help attract students.

Committee member Nicole Boudreaux, world language specialist for Lafayette Parish schools, said she thinks the school should offer classes in philosophy, ethics and even international law to build students’ “global competency.”

The curriculum should also be flexible to enable non-immersion students interested in foreign language studies to enroll and also provide course offerings to complement existing Lafayette Parish schools of choice programs, Boudreaux said.

Students in those existing schools of choice programs could attend the school part-time to take their relevant courses, Boudreaux said. For instance, students at Northside High’s Academy of Legal Studies could attend the school to take an international law or ethics course, she said.

Immersion students should also be allowed to learn more than one language, Boudreaux said.

The legislation sets French as the “primary language” and recommends Spanish and Mandarin Chinese as other languages. All three are part of existing foreign language immersion options in Lafayette Parish schools.

On Friday, suggestions of a fourth language included Louisiana tribal languages, Arabic, Farsi, or Portuguese.

The high school will give students an advantage to compete in the global economy, said Brent Pelloquin, whose four daughters all attend French immersion at Prairie Elementary.

“I would love for there to be a high school because I’ve seen the benefits of immersion from grades preschool through five,” he said.

The committee will hold its next meeting at noon March 22 at Le Centre International de Lafayette.

Committee members include Billy Stokes, executive director of the Cecil J. Picard Center for Child Development and Lifelong Learning; Philippe Gustin, executive director of Le Centre International de Lafayette; Philippe Aldon, of the French consulate offices in New Orleans; two members of the Council for the Development of French in Louisiana, Amanda LaFleur and Nicole Boudreaux; Chuck Lein, designee of Lafayette City-Parish President Joey Durel; Sandra Billeaudeau, designee of Lafayette Parish Superintendent Pat Cooper; Brent Pelloquin, of the Greater Lafayette Chamber of Commerce; state Reps. Nancy Landry, R-Lafayette, Stephen Ortego, D-Carencro, and Ledricka Thierry, D-Opelousas; state Sens. Eric LaFleur, D-Ville Platte, and Page Cortez, R-Lafayette; Terri Hammett, designee of Louisiana Superintendent of Education John White; Jordan Kellman, designee of ULL President Joseph Savoie; and Paula Carson, designee of Lafayette Economic Development Authority President Gregg Gothreaux.