Update on New York City's French Bilingual Revolution

July 31, 2014 | By Fabrice Jaumont

The success of French-English dual language programs in New York is now recognized by all. A recent New York Times article featured the expansion of these programs, and triggered numerous reactions. The demand for bilingual programs has been growing steadily since the opening of the first programs in 2007. In seven years, New York has seen the creation and growth of eleven French-English bilingual programs in schools serving more than 1,300 students (as of September 2014). Although the programs keep expanding, the number of seats available remains insufficient: more families face harsh competition for admission and some schools are forced to deny half of the requests. Since 2007, there have been more than 1,000 families who could not enroll their children in these programs for lack of space. Moreover, New York City counts 22,000 children who live in homes where French is spoken. Indeed, the demographics of the Francophone population in New York leads one to believe that many more students could benefit from a broader offer of bilingual classes.

At the other end of the chain, the first cohort of students, who were educated bilingually since kindergarten, are now ready to apply for high school. Through the years, their parents had succeeded in convincing principals and administrators at the Department of Education to safeguard the continuity of their French education. They have inspired other communities to start their own bilingual revolution (new programs in Italian, Japanese, Russian will be offered in the near future). This trend is also spreading to other cities in the U.S. as a recent report shows.

This represents an astounding opportunity for the teaching of languages, which deserve to be supported and guided. More and more families settle in New York and look for opportunities that will allow their children to improve their heritage language. The bilingual education of New York public schools meets these requirements in that, on the one hand, it follows an American curriculum, and on the other hand, the language of instruction is shared between English and the heritage language. Moreover, these programs provide a free, high quality education for all families.

Although very involved, the New York City Department of Education cannot cover all of the expenses associated with the creation of new classes. It provides the salary for the teachers in the program and covers basic funding for each student. Until now, more stakeholders such as governmental, non-profit, and private donors have compensated for certain shortages. Among other contributions, they have donated books and have provided professional development for teachers, in the target language. Nevertheless, there are times when we must reach further and catalyze the strong forces who champion these bilingual programs. In so doing, we hope to spread this encouraging news and ultimately promote extensive action that would allow these programs to perpetuate.

Current needs of these schools

  • - Supply educational resources and books to schools that offer French bilingual classes

  • - Increase the number of bilingual and certified teachers in French

  • - Increase the offerings in French and English in these schools (cultural activities, etc.)

  • - Consolidate the development of the bilingual programs through high school

  • - Create new programs in areas with a high concentration of Francophone children

The programs face certain challenges that may be solved by collective action. The first is 1) the purchase of educational resources. New York City schools in our program do not employ the teaching methods for French reading used in other city schools. Our methods, which have been proven effective by student performances on state assessments each year, require the purchase of large quantities of specific books.

Another area in which our help could have a strong impact is 2) the coordination of professional development designed by bilingual teachers specifically to meet the needs of the NYC curriculum. In the same way, assistance with the creation of resources when these do not exist is equally essential.

Then, 3) the establishment of grants to encourage the certification of teachers in bilingual education is a vital measure to the sustainable development of this initiative.

Raising funds for bilingual education

French-English bilingual programs are hugely successful in New York and continue to expand to serve the growing number of interested families. The needs are many and a fundraising campaign is underway to support this bilingual revolution. It was launched a few months ago at the instigation of the French Embassy and French-American Cultural Exchange (FACE). A committee for the development of bilingual classes in New York was formed to achieve the following objectives: raise $ 2.8 million and serve 7000 children in the next 5 years, improve and sustain the existing bilingual programs, and develop new French-English dual language programs throughout the city, including in underserved areas where many francophone families live.

To date, nearly $ 200,000 have been raised through various activities (silent auction, crowdfunding, selling calendars, direct solicitations, letters of appeal, and calls for donations through social networks). More than 200 individual have made a financial contribution so far, and several corporations, community organizations, universities, and foundations have brought in their support. For instance, the Society of French and Francophone Teachers (SPFFA) now offers grants of $ 5,000 to encourage French-speaking students to complete their Master's and obtain the qualifying certifications to teach in public schools in New York. Hunter College now offers a Master's in Bilingual Education with a French track. Gymglish, an online provider of language lessons donates 50% of its revenues to our programs through purchases made through my blog NewYorkinFrench.net

A revolution has started. Join us!

Dr. Fabrice Jaumont

To support these programs:


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