French Gains Foothold on New York City ’s Dual-Language Map

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Wed Aug 22 14:00:57 UTC 2007

August 22, 2007
French Gains Foothold on New York City's Dual-Language Map


Nearly all the 65 dual-language programs in the New York City public
schools are conducted in Spanish and Chinese, languages that are
considered practical tools for future success. So far, French has not
fit into that equation. But next month, the first French-English
dual-language programs will begin at three schools in the city: Public
School 125 on the Upper West Side, P.S. 58 in Carroll Gardens,
Brooklyn, and Intermediate School 22 in Harlem. They are the result of
two years of lobbying from the French Embassy and a group of parents
determined to promote the language in the public schools.

Dual-language programs have operated for more than 15 years, officials
at the city's Department of Education said. The inclusion of French
brings the total number of languages in the program to five, including
Spanish, Chinese, and last year's addition of Haitian-Creole and
Russian. "There is a growing recognition that in our globalized
society, speaking two or more languages is quite advantageous,"
Lindsey Harr, a department spokeswoman, wrote in an e-mail message.
She added, "We open new dual-language programs partially in response
to community interest and demand."

The department's efforts to open an Arabic-English school, the Khalil
Gibran International Academy, in the Boerum Hill section of Brooklyn
this year met with problems from its inception; just weeks away from
the opening, its founding principal resigned under pressure. Although
the idea of a French language program never caused any uproar, selling
it to the department, with all its bureaucracy, was no easy task, some
supporters of the program said. And, they added, it was often even
harder to persuade other parents that French was useful for more than
watching art films or reading a wine list.

"Parents didn't really understand," said Polly Desjarlais, a museum
interpreter whose 5-year-old son, George, will enter a French-English
kindergarten at P.S. 58. "Why French? I kept hearing that over and
over again, from people at the playground. Why not Spanish, why not
Italian, since this is a historically Italian neighborhood? Why not
something practical that could be used?" The French Embassy offered
about $20,000 in annual financing to each school that is beginning a
program this fall, and raised more money from private donors.

"It was very hard to get anything started, probably because people
have the wrong perceptions," said Fabrice Jaumont, the education
attaché for the French Embassy in New York. "I think it's strange that
people just focus on Chinese or Spanish when French is spoken in 50
countries." Anne-Laure Fayard, a professor at Polytechnic University
in Brooklyn, said she was not surprised by the lack of French programs
when she moved to New York. She even detected some anti-French bias in

"I know the stories about 'freedom fries' and everything, so I didn't
expect that everyone wants to learn French," she said. But some
parents said that after asking around, they discovered a huge demand.
According to data from Éducation Française à New York, a group founded
in 2005 to promote the French language in the city's schools, more
than 31,000 children in New York City speak French at home. Until now,
their options were limited to private schools, like the Lycée Français
on the Upper East Side, which is not only exclusive, but also charges
tuition of more than $18,000 a year for elementary school students.

Florence Nash, who helped found the education group, said there was an
underserved population of French speakers in the city who could not
afford private school and whose children had no way of continuing
their language education in the public schools. There were the
families from European countries, including Belgium, Switzerland and
France, as well as the more recent waves of immigrants from Morocco,
Syria and Lebanon, many of whom had backgrounds in French. But Ms.
Nash, who is from France, said French people were not predisposed to
create their own programs, especially within the usually intractable
public school system.

"It's a scandal that there hasn't been anything in French before,
because the population is there," said Ms. Nash, who lives in
Stuyvesant Town with her husband, daughter and son. "But the French,
they are too embarrassed to do anything. They don't have the American
mentality of 'do it yourself.' " At P.S. 125 and P.S. 58, the programs
will begin as a single kindergarten class, then expand by one grade
every year. At I.S. 22, the classes will begin as Grades 5 and 6.

French dual-language programs have taken hold in public schools in
Chicago, Miami, Boston and Washington, said Mr. Jaumont, who spends
much of his time lobbying school administrators across the country to
push French programs. "We're launching this new campaign called the
World Speaks French, showing that French is spoken everywhere,
internationally," he said. "Maybe that would be seducing for American
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