Wednesday, June 16, 2010
By JULIANA L'HEUREUX
Maine's French immersion primary school in Freeport recently received its full academic accreditation from the French government.
Willy Le Bihan, Director and Founder of L'Ecole Française (The French School) said the process for accreditation by Agence pour l'Enseignement du Français à l'Etranger took three years to complete.
"The accreditation process was rigorous," said Le Bihan. A two-week site visit by the Minister of French Education, conducted during this past school year, was required.
"Our immersion program supports Maine's Franco-American heritage," said Le Bihan. "We provide great opportunities for children to receive quality education while growing up to be bilingual in French and English," he said.
Helping to retain French as a language spoken in the homes of Franco-American families is one of the cultural goals of L'Ecole du Française.
"Some students speak French with their Franco-American grandparents in the home," said Le Bihan. This is particularly interesting because the grandparents grew up speaking French while their children, who are the students' parents, are often not fluent in the language. As a matter of fact, some students' parents are in a position of asking their children to translate conversations between them and the grandparents.
An official presentation of the academic accreditation will be made Thursday by Christophe Guilhou, Consul General of France in Boston, during the school's graduation ceremony in Freeport.
L'Ecole du Française joins the International School of Boston in Cambridge and the French-American School in Providence, R.I., as accredited French immersion schools in New England. With the addition from Maine, 40 French immersion schools are located throughout the United States, accredited by the French government's Ministry of Education.
With the accreditation, L'Ecole du Française is in the position of attracting more French teachers from France to teach at the Freeport campus. Teachers who are French nationals can receive three-year sabbaticals from their positions in France while on the faculty of L'Ecole du Française or other accredited schools. Their positions in France will be protected during the sabbaticals.
A three-year plan required for accreditation included two goals. One is to improve French language proficiency in speaking, reading and writing. The second is to educate the students about Maine's Franco-American history.
Students recently created a play covering Maine's 400 years of French history, beginning with Samuel de Champlain and his role in the founding of the St. Croix Island settlement in the St. Croix River, up until modern times. Student also interview Franco-Americans to learn more about the French presence in Maine.
All academic subjects at L'Ecole du Française are taught in French by native speakers of the language. Curriculum follows the directives of both the French Ministère de L'Education Nationale and the educational guidelines set by the state of Maine. Additionally, the L'Ecole anticipates receiving accreditation by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges, it is hoped next year.
Seventy students attending L'Ecole in preschool through seventh grades are from the Portland, Camden and Lewiston areas. About 40 percent are from French European families. Graduates are accepted in schools throughout Maine and the U.S.
"Our curriculum is very strong. Our students do well on all the standardized tests," said Le Bihan.
"Clearly, the French government sees the accreditation as a long-term investment in Maine's French immersion education. This is a diplomatic recognition for Maine's French culture" said Le Bihan.
Information about L'Ecole can be found at www.efdm.org.
Juliana L'Heureux can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org