It was a rainy morning on December the 23rd, but whether it was pre-holiday cheer or the children's natural joy - there was nothing but sunshine within the walls of the three Brooklyn schools we visited.
It was manifested in the form of songs, math exercises, and linguistic exchanges. These Franco-Anglophone linguistic exchanges to be exact. For the past decade, Brooklyn has been a role model for the rest of New York City and the rest of the country as a pioneer in bilingual education. In a recent conference with Dr. Fabrice Jaumont, the 'godfather of language immersion programs
', many educators in Texas cited Brooklyn as being at the forefront of the bilingual revolution.
In fact, it was in Brooklyn that the first dual language program began. 24 kids in 2007 have evolved to over 1300 students in New York City who form part of the program.
Joining me on the tour of PS 20, PS3, and the School of International Studies in Brooklyn was no other than Fabrice Jaumont and French Senator Louis Duvernois, who among his official duties of caring for French expats all over the world, was one of the first and most adamant supporters of French bilingual programs in the United States. Duvernois founded Adiflor, a nonprofit which distributes French books from the entire francophone world to support these bilingual initiatives. He is popular for sending these books all over the world on French navy ships, where some of children's graduations from the DLP programs have been held.
Needless to say, on his tour and just in this season of giving, Duvernois came bearing gifts from France directly to these schools.
At PS20, there are approximately 300 students. What is particularly special about this school is this literal picture of diversity that highlights that no matter what the child's background, whether anglophone or francophone, a craving is present for bilingual education.
Whether they speak French at home, took French for one semester in college, or the language is completely foreign, parents like Terra, Elsa, and Sandrine are proud and grateful to have their children be a part of this bilingual revolution. A common worry seems to be - what's the next step? Will my child be able to continue his bilingual education throughout middle school and high school?
At PS3, the oldest school in NYC, the vibrant microcosm is extended. Hailing all the way from Sudan and 'here', when asked where they were from, the children furthered the notion that a language is not only a connection to a specific country or geographic region. It's a connection to each other, to another culture, to the past. It doesn't matter where these Kindergarteners are from -- singing French songs is fun and the desire to learn more is ever-growing.
The truth is that the future seems bright for bilingual education in public schools. Next year, assuming that enough children sign up for the 6th grade's bilingual program, the School of International Studies will be the first school to offer the program throughout high school, and as an International Baccalaureate school, it truly seems to fit the puzzle.
We were welcomed into the school for lunch, but it wasn't your typical school lunch. This was more like a banquet where the chefs were students from the school's culinary class, the service was 5 stars, and the food -- exquisite.
The gathering of parents, teachers, organizers, and chefs solidified the interest and support for the future of New York City's linguistic diversity. In such an international city, there's nothing less that should be expected.