French Immersion in Iberia Parish, Louisiana


Two Iberia public schools to begin French immersion
    For the first time, two Iberia Parish (Louisiana) public schools will pilot French immersion  classes at the kindergarten level starting with the next school year. (2002-2003)

     Daspit Road Elementary and North Lewis Street Elementary will host the programs, which will be modeled after similar programs in Lafayette Parish, according to Dale Henderson, assistant superintendent of instruction of Iberia Parish schools. Approximately 60-70 openings should be available the first year.

    Participation in the programs will be completely voluntary on parents' part,
Henderson said. Both schools will begin explaining the program to parents during upcoming Kindergarten Roundup programs scheduled for Wednesday. (Mar.6, 2002)

    Over the past year, Daspit principal Kenneth Brantley and North Lewis principal Anita Wiseman have both visited Lafayette Parish public schools with French immersion classes, along with Henderson and other Iberia school district officials. Both principals said they were impressed with not only the programs themselves, but by how easily young children embraced a new language.

    "What really amazed me is they were writing in French, complete sentences and paragraphs," said Brantley, whose school currently has a French enrichment class of its own but nothing like French immersion.

    Wiseman said she's already spoken with some parents about the program to gauge interest. She said she expected more parents to approach her about the program as the new school year approaches.

    "I think as the word gets out (there will be more interest), because a lot of people do feel very strongly about their heritage and want the language preserved," she said.

    Instituting French immersion was one of the system goals set by Superintendent Eugene "Sonny" Baudry Jr. at the start of the school year, Henderson said, and has been talked about since last April. While the role of the French language locally has diminished over the years, the immersion programs allow for students to reconnect to a key part of their hometown's history, Henderson said.

     "I believe that the French language and culture are deeply rooted in this area and in Acadiana in general," Henderson said. "We also believe that this type of program can help students to connect to an important part of Acadiana's culture and heritage."

    Like the other immersion classes, the Iberia Parish programs will feature a majority of instruction in the second language, with 60 percent of instruction in French and 40 percent in English, Henderson said. The class curriculum will be exactly the same as in existing kindergarten classes, with the only difference being that it will be taught in French.

    The French that will be taught in the program will be standard European French, not the dialects spoken locally, Henderson said. Many of the teachers of the program come from French-speaking countries such as France, Belgium and Canada, he said, while others are Americans who have learned the language.

    The program will begin with kindergarten classes and then extend each year to a higher grade, following the progress of those first-year kindergarten students. The program will be instituted into first grade classes at the North Lewis and Daspit schools beginning with the 2003-2004 school year. Ideally, the program can be extended all the way to the middle school level, Henderson said.

    Starting language immersion programs at the kindergarten level is standard practice, Henderson said. Research has shown kindergarten-age children learn new languages quicker and easier than do older children and adults, he said.

    "If you're going to target an age group, the time when a child is best able to pick up a language is when they're young," Henderson said.

    Brantley agreed, saying young students in his school's current French enrichment class seem to have little trouble mastering the basics of the new language.

    "It's amazing what these kindergartners pick up with just the little time the teachers spend with them," he said.

    At Daspit Road Elementary, plans are for two of the school's four kindergarten sections will be converted to the French immersion format, Henderson said.  At North Lewis, one of the three kindergarten sections will become French immersion. Each section numbers around 22 students.

By:  The CAFA Webmaster:

I might add that New Iberia is a Spanish settlement in the heart of ACADIANA.
A recent poll by the local newspaper, the Iberian, posed this question:

“The Iberia Parish school system is starting a French immersion program next school year. What do you think of multi-language instruction?”

This was the response:

  Stick to English   14.4%
            It'll be great for children   72.2%
            Other languages are more important to learn   13.4%


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