P.S. 20 Launches French Dual-Language Program

French and English speaking students learn side-by-side in the city's French dual-language programs.
French and English speaking students learn side-by-side in the city’s French dual-language programs. P.S. 20 will be the eighth school to implement this program. (Photo by Jonas Cuenin)

Native French and English-speaking kindergarteners will learn together in one classroom at P.S. 20 in Clinton Hill this fall, through a new French dual-language program.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity for children to become bilingual,” said Shareen Anderson, a parent who helped bring the program to the school. “We can give kids a bilingual education in the public school system.”

Dual language classes, ideally, are made up of 24 children – 12 Francophones and 12 Anglophones – with some variation depending on enrollment, Anderson said. The school, on Adelphi Street, already has a French program in which students receive at least 2 hours of French instruction per week, according to the principal, Lena Barbera. The dual-language program, funded by a $20,000 grant from the Department of Education and a $5,000 grant from the French Embassy, will take a different approach in that students will be exposed constantly to French.

French dual-language programs first came to New York City in 2007, according to Jaumont. In September, the program will be in eight schools and between 30 and 40 classrooms, he said. It will have 40 different teachers and about 100 students. Of the 180 days in the school year, French dual-language students usually receive the equivalent of 90 days of French instruction and 90 in English, according to Fabrice Jaumont, the education attaché of the French Embassy’s Cultural Services. Typically, at the kindergarten level, one teacher instructs all of the classes; she wears a flower on her jacket to indicate that it’s time to speak French, and takes it off when class will be conducted in English, Jaumont said.

At P.S. 20, at least three morning classes will be held in French, Barbera said. All students will learn the same material, but Francophones will complete their assignments in French on green paper and Anglophones in English on white paper, according to Barbera. The program is not only for kindergarteners; in 2014, the school will add a first grade dual-language class, in 2015, second grade, and so on until each grade level – up to fifth grade — has one dual-language class.

By fifth grade, the English-speaking students are usually “functional” French speakers, Anderson said. But it doesn’t take long for even the youngest students to catch on to a second language. “It happens quite quickly, within the first couple months of school,” Barbera said.

Anderson pushed for the program because she wanted her daughter, who attended a French immersion pre-school, Language and Laughter Studio in Boerum Hill, to continue her French education at P.S. 20. Hoping for support, she surveyed P.S. 2o parents in December 2012 to assess their interest in the program. She also emailed parent list-serves in the brownstone Brooklyn area. A small group of parents with pre-kindergarteners at the school, as well as about 60 or 70 other parents, some of them from different neighborhoods such as Carroll Gardens and Park Slope, expressed interest.

At a P.S. 20 open house, Anderson asked Barbera if she would entertain the idea of a French dual-language program. Barbera said she would – and presented the idea to the school’s PTA executive board and the school leadership team in February or March. By April, the school had confirmed that it would begin offering the program in September.

P.S. 20 on Adelphi Street will launch a French dual language program, beginning at the kindergarten level, in September.
P.S. 20 on Adelphi Street will launch a French-English dual language program, beginning with kindergarten, in September. (Photo by Jonas Cuenin)

“We’re expecting the impact to be positive and enriching,” Barbera said. “It’s really serving second language learners.”

Earlier this month, P.S. 20 hired a teacher for the class: Sabrina Audrey Spencer, who was raised in Ottawa, Canada and educated in French dual-language programs throughout elementary and high school. Most recently, she taught kindergarten through fifth grade at Ecole Internationale de New York, a French-English bilingual elementary school in Manhattan.

Jaumont has found that students in French dual-language programs do well academically – about 80 percent of students in the program scored very high on their third grade state tests, he said.

“People are understanding now that it’s a good thing to be bilingual,” he said. “You don’t have to hide your mother tongue like you used to. People started seeing the advantage of maintaining your language and learning a new language as early as possible.”

P.S. 58 in Carroll Gardens, the city’s first school to offer a French-dual language class, just graduated its first fifth grade dual-language class in June, Anderson said. The school was a magnet for Francophone families from various neighborhoods, according to Anderson. With P.S. 20, local French-speaking families now have an option closer to home.

“There is a growing French community in Fort Greene and Clinton Hill,” Anderson said. “There is definitely a community that would benefit. There are a number of French immersion pre-schools and playgroups in the area.”

P.S. 20 will likely also attract parents whose children were closed out of P.S. 58’s program, Jaumont said. The school will offer spots to out-of-zone Francophone children, Barbera said, but as of now, only in-zone Anglophone children will be accepted.

Families interested in P.S. 20’s French dual-language program can sign their children up by emailing Jont Enroth, a School Leadership Team member, at ps20.french.program@gmail.com. Following registration, Francophone students will need to complete an assessment of their French skills. If the students’ Home Language Identification Survey indicates that English is their second language, they will also need to take the city’s Language Assessment Battery Revised (LAB-R) test.

Interested parents can also check out the Facebook page for the new program, J’aime P.S. 20.