New French dual language program about to blossom at Brooklyn’s Middle School 51

MS 51, located in Park Slope, is scheduled to commence an accelerated French Dual Language Program in Fall 2013. The program is designed to advance French education for students entering middle school who already speak the language at an accelerated level. The admissions department is still accepting applications for 6th grade students, and aims to have two full classes for next fall.

Brooklyn's The Carroll School (also known as Public School 58) established an innovative French-English dual language program for its kindergarten students in 2007. This program evolved to include two classes in each grade for kindergarten through fifth. However, as the children's elementary education continued, their parents realized that there was no opportunity for the students to continue the program once they left PS 58.

A group of dedicated parents began the process of lobbying the district to provide a dual language program at the middle school level. The graduating students from PS 58 had an advanced level of French education, and needed a program that was both sophisticated and challenging. As the only middle school in District 15 that teaches French as a second language, MS 51 was the perfect choice to implement a bilingual curriculum. Although the school already offers second language French classes to its students, the bilingual program is essential to continue the education of students for whom these classes are too easy.

“This program was born out of a need in the district,” stated MS 51’s principal, Ms. Lenore Berner. “You’d have kids who are Francophones who were coming into a very elementary French class. With the dual language program, we now have a solution to that problem. If those children are truly fluent, they now have an opportunity to continue learning.” The importance of bilingual education is becoming more prominent around the city; thus, MS 51 received a grant from New York State to establish an intensive program, aimed to improve students' reading, writing, and mechanics. “I think that the state is making a big push for more bilingual programs all over the city. I think that with the grants they’re offering, they’re really trying to help schools add these programs,” stated Berner.

The new dual language program at MS 51, scheduled to launch in Fall 2013, will consist of two courses taught in French: Advanced Language Arts and World Cultures / History. Ms. Brigitte DeWever, MS 51's current French teacher for grades 6 through 8, along with a group of parents who work in the publishing industry, spent much time looking for sources that would best complement the History course. “We have done more than two years of research to find excellent primary sources, textbooks, articles, and magazines. Over time we’ve created a huge resource list,” stated Ms. Berner. For the Fall 2013 program, 6th grade students will be studying ancient civilizations; thus, they may read French texts about Roman society. These readings, however, will be just one aspect of the class, as the curriculum is designed to be very interactive. Students will work together collaboratively, creating projects, and participating in interactive quizzes and games online. Students will also participate in pen-pal activities, a project that has traditionally taken place in the currently established French as a second language program, with students from France visiting New York and interacting with their American peers.

To further encourage French immersion, there will be optional after school arts-focused offerings taught in French. Students may learn to cook or even put on plays in French. Education will not stop in the classroom, however. The school has traditionally planned cultural field trips for its French students, including dining at French restaurants, and perhaps even a trip to France!

The program will begin with one or two sixth grade classes, and will expand in subsequent years based on demand. Admission requires that students first be accepted into MS 51, after which they may apply to the dual language program. Participants of elementary school bilingual programs, English Language Learners, and French heritage language speakers are all eligible to apply. Students are expected to be proficient or fluent in reading, writing, and speaking French prior to entering the program.

More information: www.ms51.org

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