French dual-language immersion program joins long-standing history in Anchorage
Kindergarten teacher Amber Stout hears a lot of students singing French throughout her day.
"Lots of the French songs," Stout said. "I don't want to get them started they'll start on their marionette song. It's very cute though."
Stout teaches the English portion of the French dual-language immersion program at O'Malley Elementary School in Anchorage.
"Every once in a while I'll hear bonjour and au revior, oui or no," Stout said. "Not a lot of the French back and forth yet. Not yet."
The program is in it's first year and joins a successful history of language immersion programs that include Japanese, Spanish, Russian, German, Chinese and Yupik. The French program was started with the help of parents and volunteers.
"In today's financial situation with public education we can't just continue to add programs without funding," Anchorage School District Director of World Languages and Immersion Programs Brandon Locke said. "The district has a very solid long-standing history with immersion programs going back to 1989 with Japanese."
Locke says the idea for a French immersion program started around 20 years ago but it wasn't until two years ago when the real possibility of the program became clear with fundraising efforts and grant applications.
"When they proposed the program to the board they came with a good $40,000," Locke said.
The efforts from French Language Advocates Anchorage resulted in the Anchorage School Board approving their proposal to launch French immersion this fall at the elementary school. Support also came from the French Embassy’s FACE grant, the Alaska Community Foundation International Understanding Grant, Anchorage East Rotary Grant, and the American Society of the French Legion of Honor.
Locke says the money raised is used to help with curriculum and materials for the students in the classroom.
"We do teach the district adopted curriculum," Locke said. "We're lucky to have Canada as our neighbor. So there are materials that are appropriate for Alaska that are produced in French in Canada. So finding books on Alaskan animals or animals you would find in Alaska is possible from Canada as opposed to finding it Europe."
Two weeks into the program's inaugural year, most of the 54 students who will be a part of the 2032 graduating class don't speak much French.
Each morning, half of the group is with teacher Kane Neubauer, where only French is spoken and allowed in the classroom. Neubauer teaches French language arts, science and social studies all in French. The other half is taught in English by Amber Stout, where students learn English language arts and math. In the afternoon, the students switch classrooms.
"I'm having a much harder time understanding," Stout said. "They seemed to have caught right on. They are definitely absorbing everything that's being taught over there."
The plan is to add an additional grade each year until a K-12 continuum is complete. A Wednesday night ribbon-cutting ceremony in the elementary school's gymnasium will celebrate the launch of the program and all the hard work involved to get the vision to fruition.
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