The Boom in Dual-Language Classes in New York (2/3): “Demand is High Enough to Open 50 More Schools!”

In the second part of our series on bilingualism, Fabrice Jaumont, education specialist and author of The Bilingual Revolution, explains the role of parents in the creation of the French-English dual-language classes in New York.
© Sylvie Serprix

More than 80,000 people living in New York speak French at home according to the latest data compiled by the U.S. Census Bureau. Speakers of Creole, certain African languages, and even Arabic also have to be taken into account to have an idea of how many Francophones live in New York. According to my calculations, at least 22,000 are children of school age, which is enough to open more than 50 new dual-language schools! In reality, however, there is still a lot of work to do. Today there are some 20 private bilingual schools and ten public schools.

There are too few options for families who want to offer their children a rigorous French education and who have the means to do so. The most renowned private schools include the Lycée Français de New York, the United Nations International School, the Lyceum Kennedy, the Ecole Internationale de Brooklyn, the Ecole Internationale de New York (EINY), the French-American School of New York (FASNY) in Larchmont, the French-American Academy in Jersey City, and the French-American School of Princeton.

However, many Francophone families cannot afford these schools. The neighborhoods of Harlem, Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx are welcoming a growing population of Francophone immigrants from Europe, Canada, Africa, and the Caribbean. These new arrivals often speak Wolof, Bambara, or Creole at home, and are not always identified as French speakers by the local education authorities. Many have slipped under the administrative radar, but they still need access to French-language education services. These young families depend on the public system to protect their children’s linguistic heritage.

Since the first public dual-language program opened at the P.S. 58 elementary school in Brooklyn, similar classes have been created in all of the city’s boroughs except Staten Island. New programs are also being considered, at the P.S. 5 elementary school in Bedford-Stuyvesant and the Sofara International Charter School in Harlem, for example. Two middle schools, M.S. 256 (Lafayette Academy) and M.S. 51, and a high school, the Boerum Hill School for International Studies, are ensuring this free offer continues throughout children’s later school years.

Campaigns by Parents and Teachers

These programs are often created thanks to Francophone parents, but most applicants and students are anglophones with no cultural or linguistic ties to France. At the P.S. 20 elementary school in Clinton Hill and at the New York French American Charter School (NYFACS) in Harlem, bilingual classes were launched by educators looking to help underprivileged Francophone families in their neighborhood and by American parents who wanted their children to be able to speak and write fluently in French and English.

Talcott Camp is one such parent behind these initiatives. This New York-based Francophile lawyer specialized in civil rights wanted her two children to grow up speaking French. She helped create a dual-language class at the P.S. 84 elementary school in Manhattan before becoming the secretary and then president of the Education en Français à New York association (EFNY). “I was interested in foreign languages,” she says. “But the real reason I wanted my children to study in a dual-language program was because I wanted them to grow up speaking more than one language. Multilingualism offers so many benefits in cultural, intellectual, and political terms, but I never thought I could create a bilingual class in my children’s school. Another parent, Virgil de Voldère, first told me about the idea, and the principal at the time promised to help us if we had the support of enough families.”

Along with a group of other parents, Talcott Camp organized a bilingualism awareness campaign in her neighborhood. They spoke to families on the Upper West Side, made and distributed flyers, created a website, and held meetings to share information. They showed the school that the number of interested families justified opening a French-English dual-language program. The P.S. 84 elementary school – which was already a pioneer in bilingual Spanish education – was chosen to welcome the program and the first students began the dual-language class in September 2008.

Almost 250 students from Europe, Canada, the Caribbean, and Africa are now studying in this free dual-language program. They are completely bilingual after fifth grade and have a good understanding of both Francophone and American cultures. In a symbol of the success of these public bilingual classes in New York, eight schools across the city have received the “FrancEducation” label of excellence from the French Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs!

=> A conference on multilingualism will be held on Saturday, October 6, 2018, from 9 am to 1 pm at the Assemblée Nationale in Paris. Fabrice Jaumont will be speaking on the role of parents in the creation of dual-language programs. He will also present his latest book, The Bilingual Revolution, at the Maison des Etudiants Canadiens in Paris on Wednesday, October 10, from 1 to 2:30 pm.