The corridors are freshly painted, the floor has been laid, and the furniture is all in place in the classrooms. The Lycée International de Houston was inaugurated on July 14, 2017, and is ready for its very first semester. From the first year of preschool to ninth grade, the establishment will welcome 117 students, 80% of whom already speak French at home. The new school has been welcomed with open arms by expat families.
In light of the current demographic boom, schools in Houston have run out of space. The city has seen its population increase by 300,000 people over the last 20 years, and is set to be bigger than Chicago – the third largest city in the United States – before 2030. Leading energy sector businesses, the medical research center and the space center have been attracting more and more expats who have moved to Houston with their children. One third of the French community – estimated at a total of 11,000 people – is under 18, compared with 22% across the rest of the country.
But these Francophone families are lacking sufficient education options. The Awty International School was until recently the city’s only establishment to offer French/English dual-language education from nursery school to high school. Mark White Elementary School, which inaugurated the first public bilingual program in Texas in December 2016, will welcome 135 students this year from second year of preschool to first grade. But it’s still not enough.
The Lycée International de Houston is found to the west of the city in a neighborhood nicknamed “Energy Corridor,” and its location is strategic for two reasons: It is the main hub for Francophones in the region, and numerous oil and gas companies have their headquarters in the area. “The Lycée was created to meet a demand from expat families looking for a completely bilingual education for their children,” says Karine Pousset, the schools founder and principal.
A Plurilingual Approach
The school’s program and its location were enough to convince Sophie Bailly Soulier, who moved to Houston after six years living in Princeton, New Jersey. Her daughter Rachel, 12, joined the Lycée International in eighth grade, and the school fees (24,750 dollars) are paid for by her husband’s employer, the Schlumberger oilfield services group. The family is set to leave the United States at the end of their international contract next summer, which is another reason Sophie chose the school. “I don’t want my daughter to have fallen behind the other students when we go back to France,” she says.
The Lycée International de Houston meets the standards set by the French Ministry for Education, and follows its school programs. Kindergarten students receive 80% of their classes in French, and 55% from first grade onwards. In line with the program, two hours of weekly Spanish classes are introduced in fourth grade. The teaching staff is also a reflection of this plurilingual approach; 13 of the 18 teachers are French natives, on leave from their respective regional education authorities in France.
The first high school classes will arrive at the Lycée International in September 2018, and will start studying for the French Baccalaureate and the French-American Baccalaureate from the 2019-2020 school year onwards. Drawing on her experience as director of French primary education at the Awty International School, Karine Pousset has designed the Lycée International to be a “cultural center” capable of welcoming 2,000 students when it is fully operational. This latest initiative should be a step towards satisfying expat families in Houston, for whom finding an appropriate school for their children is a priority. “Everyone can’t wait for our school to open,” says the principal, who has already received applications for the 2018-2019 school year.