Lafayette schools expanding French immersion program

The Lafayette Parish school system plans to start a late-entry French immersion class next year to expand its popular immersion option to older students.

Enrollment in the late-entry French immersion class would be open to incoming fifth-graders who excel at their first language and are independent readers and learners, said Nicole Boudreaux, the district’s world language specialist.

The district is fielding interest in the opportunity now and its start is dependent on the number of students who qualify and enroll, said Mario Charest, the district’s world language immersion content instructional coach.

If it launches, Lafayette Parish could have the first late-entry program in the state.

No other districts offer a late-entry immersion option now, said Barry Landry, Louisiana Department of Education spokesman.

More than 1,000 students participate in the district’s French immersion learning option, in which students begin at an early age — either preschool or kindergarten — learning all their subjects in the foreign language, except for English.

The immersion option is part of the district’s schools of choice program that enables students to attend a school out of their zone to pursue their interests in language or in another field, such as the performing arts, health sciences or technology.

Students apply and are selected in a computerized lottery.

The late-entry option offers a second chance to those students not selected for an immersion spot at an early age, Charest said.

“If a parent wishes their student to go beyond what they’ve learned in fourth grade, we’re offering the opportunity to immerse in that language they’ve just discovered,” Charest said.

The majority of elementary schools in the district offer a French language class to fourth-graders, Boudreaux said.

“Several hundred students take French in the fourth grade,” she said.

Boudreaux said students will be admitted to the class through an interview process and their prior school performance will be reviewed.

The class will be challenging and students must be motivated to excel in their French studies, Boudreaux said.

“What we see in other countries with late-entry is that by the ninth grade, they’ve caught up,” she said.