French to Raise Funds for Bilingual School Programs in NYC

P.S. 133 in Brooklyn hosts one of five French Dual Language Programs currently in New York City's primary schools. (Photo by Christelle Gérand via France-Amérique.)

P.S. 133 in Brooklyn hosts one of five French Dual Language Programs currently in New York City’s primary schools. (Photo by Christelle Gérand via France-Amérique.)

The French Embassy’s cultural services division, based in New York, will launch on December 5 a big fundraising campaign in a quest to fund the rapidly developing bilingual programs called French Dual Language Program (DLP) in the city’s public schools.

Will the city’s French community rally around such an ambitious project? This is the hope of Fabrice Jaumont, education attaché of the French Embassy in the U.S. As a member of the committee for the development of bilingual classes, along with school principals, teachers, parents, donors and diplomats, he plans to raise $2.8 million. The money will be invested in the development of bilingual programs in the city’s public schools. The estimated cost of a student enrolled in those immersion programs is $400 over five years.

This alternative to private institutions has experienced an unprecedented success since the first class opened in 2007 at P.S. 58, in the Carroll Gardens neighborhood in Brooklyn. Today, there are five French Dual Language Programs in primary schools (P.S. 58, P.S. 133, P.S. 110, P.S. 20, P.S. 84,) two programs at  middle schools (M.S. 51 and M.S. 256,) and one bilingual charter school, NYFACS, in Harlem. Some 1,000 students, half of them Francophones, are currently enrolled in those programs.

“With 22,000 Francophone children in New York, you could have 40 to 50 more bilingual programs,” said Jaumont. For the past couple of years, an increasing number of families have been turned away from these programs, due to lack of space.

Count on expats, not the government

The funds raised will finance scholarships for the training of bilingual teachers and the purchase of school materials. Also, they will make possible the implementation of these programs in underprivileged zones with large Francophone communities, such as the South Bronx or Flatbush in Brooklyn. “We need private funds, we need the French community to support us, not only the parents involved,” said Jaumont. “The goal of this fundraising is to engage French New Yorkers in a collective effort. When you are in the United States and you want things to happen, you can’t be passive. This is the ABC of this country. Families need to realize that they have the power to create a bilingual program without the help of the government.”

France currently subsidizes the purchase of books through its foreign affairs ministry. Also, the senators [that represented] French expats have supported the bilingual programs with parliamentary funds. These sums, however, are insufficient to ensure the programs’ continuity.

Jaumont is also counting on the support of French companies in reaching the goal of $2.8 million. Corporate supporters would benefit from these programs in public schools, since they can enroll the children of the staff they bring to the U.S. This is the case for [banks] BNP and Crédit Agricole, and [cosmetics company] L’Oréal. “It will be easier for French companies to bring their French workforce to the U.S. if they don’t have to deal with the trouble of schooling the children of expatriates,” said Jaumont.

A bilingual high school soon?

The new programs could see the light of day the next school year or in 2015. Parent associations have been established in Astoria, Queens, and Downtown Manhattan, bringing together 175 families. This mobilization is enough to open several schools.

New York could also very soon host a bilingual high school. This is a project managed by an American brought up in a bilingual environment, Keith Ryan, in association with the cultural services division of the embassy. The high school could open its doors as soon as next year. In fact, Ryan hopes to obtain all the authorizations needed for the opening of the institution before the arrival of the new mayor and a new team within the city’s  Department of Education.

The fundraiser will be officially introduced on December 5 at an event at the cultural services arm of the embassy. At that time, the platform for financial participation will launch online at the site Indiegogo.

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