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Woodside school to hold French bilingual program

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Queens’ first French dual-language program is opening this fall at PS 151 in Woodside, elating the school’s principal, parents and members of the city’s Francophone community who have long wished more schools would offer classes in the language spoken by more than 300,000 families citywide, including many in Woodside and Astoria.

“I didn’t realize this, but there’s a large French population in Astoria and Queens,” said PS 151 Principal Jason Goldner. “When we had an orientation for the program, a lot of the French community came out to support the cause.”

Woodside parents Virginie Le Lan and Helene Maubourguet, both originally from France, have been spearheading the effort in recent years to open dual-langauge programs in schools throughout the city. Soon after they approached Goldner last year about having PS 151 be the city’s sixth school to offer a French program, Goldner said he came to the conclusion that it seemed to be a perfect fit for the area.

“There’s a big Francophone community here,” said Le Lan, whose child will be attending the program in Woodside. “There are not only people from France, but people from North Africa — Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco.”

Le Lan and Maubourguet are both members of Education Francaise a New York, a group founded in 2005 to promote the French language and culture, which has been active in starting up a dual-language program in Queens.

There will initially be two French dual-language classes at PS 151, one for kindergartners and the other for first-grade students. Eventually, the program will extend from kindergarten to fifth-grade.

About half of each class will be made up of Francophones and the other 50 percent will be native English speakers. The students, who will total no more than 24 in each class, will follow a 50/50 model in which half the daily instructional time is conducted in English and the other half in French. Literacy and social studies will be taught in both languages. Math will only be taught in English, but children will learn math vocabulary in French.

Specialty subjects, such as science, physical education, art and music will be taught in English.

“There are non-French speaking parents who are interested in this program,” Goldner said. “There are a lot of non-French speaking parents who are multilingual and believe in the value of languages.”

There are 78 dual-language programs in the city, including 19 in Queens. Many of those programs are Spanish-English programs with others in Chinese and even one in Haitian Creole. Of Queens’ dual-language programs, 16 are Spanish, two are Chinese and one is Korean.

Besides Woodside’s new program, there are French dual-language programs at five other schools — one in Brooklyn, one in Harlem, one on the Upper West Side and two in the Bronx.

Fabrice Jaumont, who works for the French Embassy in Manhattan, said it makes sense to offer more French programs, since the embassy estimates there are more than 300,000 Francophone families in the city. Additionally, Jaumont added that being fluent in French opens up many doors in a world where the language is spoken in about 55 countries.

“In Asia and Europe, the kids are learning two or three languages at a very young age,” Jaumont said. “That means those kids in Asia or Europe will have more of a competitive résumé than kids coming out without other languages here. Whether it’s French or other languages, kids should have the option of learning several languages early on in their education.”

Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e-mail at agustafson@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 174.

Posted 6:32 pm, October 10, 2011
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