Earlier this week I visited Brooklyn International High School (BIHS) to meet key people involved in the French Heritage Language Program (FHLP). The FHLP provides native French students in the New York Public Schools with an opportunity to practice and improve their French skills.
One charismatic former student, Bassirou Kaba, journeyed back to his alma mater to promote the program. As he spoke he transitioned seamlessly between French and English, explaining to fellow native French speakers how the program could benefit them not only socially, but career-wise as well. Kaba told his former peers how participating in the FHLP helped him to become truly bilingual, conversationally, academically and professionally.
Kaba now studies at Borough of Manhattan Community College. He expressed the FHLP had helped him become more confident in both his native French and English, which helped him perform well in high school and transition to college. He also emphasized how fun the after-school program is, and how “just a little effort” by students to perfect their French skills can go a long way toward improving future prospects in both the academic world and the job market. Kaba himself exemplifies the success of the program, showing BIHS students how studying French can help them pursue their goals.
Besides after-school opportunities for native French speakers, the FHLP will offer a course at BIHS for all students interested in learning French as an elective during the school day. This class intends to ground students with little or no prior French in the basics. It will also welcome native speakers interested in reviewing and helping their peers. This classroom interaction allows students to learn from each other, exploring the French language and sharing cultural experiences.
Jean-Baptiste Jocelyn, an FHLP teacher, will instruct the school-day class open to all students in addition to the native speakers group after school. Jocelyn hails from Haiti and is fluent in French, Creole and English, acting as an invaluable resource to students interested in improving their language abilities. He aims to instruct students not only in French, but also to open their minds to francophone culture throughout the world. He will assist students struggling with their work for core academic courses by explaining the content in French, strengthening understanding in both languages and improving students’ overall academic achievement.
The instrumental support of Head Principal Pamela Taranto and Assistant Principal Fred Wambolt makes French classes at BIHS possible, where the school has hosted FHLP initiatives for six years. The school belongs to the International Network for Public Schools, a network open exclusively to English Language Leaners.
Some New York City high school populations boast as high as 25 percent French speakers, making the FHLP an essential resource to students who may speak French at home, but almost never use it academically. Though BIHS represents the growing Francophone presence in New York, welcoming many students from West Africa and Haiti, it does not count itself among the public schools with French dual-language immersion programs. Holding FHLP classes for students allows the school to support the needs of its French-speaking students, while also giving the entire student body a chance to broaden its horizons by exploring francophone culture.
Brooklyn International High School is one of ten New York high schools to benefit from the FHLP, which serves approximately 400 students in Manhattan, Queens, the Bronx and Brooklyn. The FHLP is an arm of the non-profit foundation French-American Cultural Exchange, and works in partnership with the French Embassy in the United States. To support the program or find more information, visit www.facecouncil.org/fhlp. The program coordinator, Benoît Le Dévédec, is also available by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 212-439-1438.