The French Connection

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Many children in New York City, indeed in Brooklyn, are bilingual, no surprise there. But not all get an education in both languages.

Nearly 1,000 New York City students, says edcuation specialist Fabrice Jaumont, founder of, are enrolled in French dual language programs, and starting in September 2013, Brooklyn will add one more to its school system. MS 51 in Park Slope will add a dual language program to meet the needs of students transitioning from PS 58, in Carroll Gardens, which has two French-English dual language classes from kindergarten through fifth grade.

MS 51
MS 51 in Park Slope (Credit:

“Research has shown that bilingualism is good for you,”  said Jaumont.

Parents spearheaded the effort to bring the program to MS 51, which has already received a grant to buy resources and start planning the curriculum.

“The parents were extremely helpful and instrumental in the development of the program at MS 51,” said Lenore Berner, MS 51’s principal.

One of those parents is Beth Shair, a board member of New York in French – an initiative to teach the romance language in New York City. Her two daughters speak French and English, and their father is a native French speaker. The idea occurred to her as her daughter prepared to graduate from PS 58.

“We were trying to find a solution,” she said. “I gathered other parents to help and we did research on what kind of dual language programs already exist in the country.” Shair traveled around to look at different dual language models, including one in the town of Milton, Mass. “We wanted a good middle school that was close. It’s in the neighborhood, it already teaches French and Spanish- it tied in nicely,” she explained.

Brigitte DeWeaver, a native French speaker and teacher at Middle School 51 in Park Slope, has been helping plan the curriculum and find the right materials to get the new program off on the right start and allow the students who are already taking French to continue the enrichment program. DeWeaver says she immediately accepted the offer to help when she learned about the development three years ago.

“I went right away to start finding books, and necessary elements for the curriculum for what the French would study at this age,” she said. “I went to PS 58 and looked at the classes and looked at the kids.”

DeWeaver also interviews interested students as part of the application process. MS 51 is a gifted program, where children must meet the requirements and criteria to attend, and the same standards hold true for the dual language program.

DeWeaver will continue doing what she does now–teaching French, but at a higher level. “My kids have done well in all of the tests. We’ve won awards with the French embassy. We’ve won either first prize or second prize at competitions. We even won against the French at an intercontinental contest,” she added.

While half of the students entering the program are native speakers and the other half decided to learn French on their own accord, DeWeaver says one thing is clear; they all want the chance to continue. “It’s not their parents – the kids want to continue learning. It’s almost like an instrument and feeling proud,” she said. “I want to keep bringing them up to a higher level.”





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