Fourteen public schools in New York have opened a French-English dual-language program since September 2007. Four have been discontinued due to poor organization or a change in the school leadership, but ten are still going today. There are seven dual-language programs for elementary school students in Manhattan and Brooklyn, as well as three middle schools that offer bilingual classes up to eighth grade. The Boerum Hill School for International Studies in Brooklyn has combined its French-English program with its International Baccalaureate preparation classes, creating a public school offering never seen before in the United States. The school now teaches students from sixth grade up to twelfth grade, as well as providing a Bilingual International Baccalaureate diploma when they graduate. The first three students to complete the program will receive their distinctions next June.
As an increasing number of students who began dual-language programs in kindergarten are now starting high school, it is vital that schools guarantee the continuity of this type of education. The French-English bilingual offerings in New York now welcome more than 2,000 children, and it is estimated that more than 3,000 students have benefited from these programs since 2007. If the bilingual boom continues with the support of school principals and families, another 2,000 students could receive a dual-language French-English education by 2020.
However, the “bilingual revolution” is being held back by the lack of seats in these schools. This creates brutal competition between applying students — a problem that could be resolved by creating new programs in the New York area. The insufficient number of qualified bilingual teachers is also slowing the development of dual-language classes. Public schools are often unable to grant work permits to foreign staff and therefore struggle to recruit enough people. Most applicants to bilingual teaching positions are Americans or green-card holders. What’s more, a bilingual teaching diploma is often required and anyone looking to teach in a local public school has to be certified by the state of New York.
Training the Bilingual Teachers of Tomorrow
In an effort to make up for the lack of qualified bilingual teachers, Hunter College in Manhattan – which has offered a master’s degree in bilingual Spanish education since 1983 – now includes a specific option for French-English teaching. The University of Louisiana at Lafayette will also be offering a similar course next spring.
To encourage the training of new teachers and to inspire students to sign up to the program at Hunter College, a scholarship has been created by the Société des Professeurs Français et Francophones d’Amérique and the Cultural Services of the French Embassy. Public and private donations have also led to the development of a vast assistance program for schools, the French Dual Language Fund, which provides grants from 1,000 to 10,000 dollars to schools looking to open or expand a bilingual French-English program, recruit a bilingual teacher, or purchase educational equipment.
There are several challenges holding back the development of dual-language programs in New York and across the United States in general. But together, parents, teachers, donors, and community leaders have the power to move things forward. Bilingualism can create positive change for children, schools, communities, and even whole countries!
=> 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.