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french american international school

frequently asked

Our 7 most

frequently asked questions. Q1. How can we support our child’s learning if we have no French at home? 70% of our families have no French at home. There is much that monolingual parents can do to support the efforts of their bilingual children. Parental buy in is the essential thing. Mere exposure to the French language is not enough. The motivation to communicate in French is driven in part by the school routine and the fact that the child’s peer group are all in an immersion setting together. For parents it is important to support and validate their child’s bilingual quest constantly. The best way to achieve this is by direct parental involvement in the school. We need field trip chaperones, room parents, events chairs and Parent Association representatives, to name just a few volunteer opportunities. There is a direct correlation between parental involvement and the success of the child. Aspects of the school life, like exchange programs, are a considerable imposition on a family. In this sense our parents also go through an education. This seems only fair since many parents chose the school precisely because they wanted to give their children the gift of a bilingual and globally-minded school experience that they did not get themselves. Monolingual parents should serve as appropriate and correct language model in their own language. Due to the natural transfer of competencies, this automatically supports learning in French. Bilingual acquisition is optimal when children have meaningful and varied reinforcement in both languages.

Q2. Does bilingual immersion sabotage learning in English? The cognitive advantages of bilingualism become apparent only when a threshold of fairly high competence is reached. There is an all or nothing aspect to the quest. There may be some initial lags in reading scores and other measurable skills in early elementary. This is temporary. Our bilingual students quickly catch up and many surpass their monolingual peers. This assertion is supported by our standardized test results. Our students take ERB tests in grades 4 and 5. Our school-wide scores regularly hover above the independent school norms in every category. In the standardized tests of the French Ministry our students far surpass their peers in France. The “transfer of competencies” works in both directions. Just as English reinforcement at home unwittingly supports French, so too, do skills and concepts learned in a French classroom enhance learning in English. By third grade, when our students are spending around half their time each language, there is little interference or confusion between languages. They are able to follow a single curriculum taught in their two languages.

Q3. Do boys and girls acquire language differently? Language acquisition is as natural as breathing. There is no empirical research that supports the notion that boys and girls acquire their first language differently. However, later in a school setting, motivation and confidence are central for successful second language acquisition. In this regard it is not difficult to imagine marginal statistical gender sensitive differences. Conventional wisdom in San Francisco is that single-sex schooling correlates with overall excellence. The city boasts first rate single sex schools which, legitimately, claim certain advantages for children of a chosen gender. Boys’ schools are able to cater to “boy energy” and “boy attention spans” by changing classroom tasks frequently and providing plenty of outlets for physical activity. In girls’ schools the high achieving student role models are all female and the girls learn in a haven free of perceived complications associated with learning alongside boys. These incremental advantages which mostly relate to self-esteem are palpable, but should be weighed against the major, cognitive and life-changing social advantages, that correlate with attaining balanced bilingualism in a diverse, international setting. At French American our mission emphasizes diversity and understanding the other. Our students rub shoulders with peers of widely varying national, ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds. For us the elimination of an entire gender would seem quite odd and detrimental to our mission. Our teachers are mindful of gender issues but place greater importance on really getting to know individual students and their families. In common with good practice the world over, they adopt a variety of teaching strategies to differentiate for various learning modalities.

Q4. What happens if a documentable learning difference emerges in a bilingual setting? The natural process of language acquisition does not itself correlate with academic proficiency. A child with an emergent learning difference simply has that learning difference in her two languages. Navigating learning differences in a bilingual setting needs care. At French American students with learning differences work with our Guidance Counselors and Learning Specialists to develop strategies. They are often allocated extra time on standardized tests. Only very rarely do parents of students in extremis opt to leave the school.

Q5. What is the trade-off between self-esteem and rigorous academics? In general we promote fun and joy in learning but we do not coddle. We have high expectations for our students because we think them capable. From the earliest years we aim to instil a sense of autonomy and responsibility. We hold that somebody else cannot give self-esteem to you. Rather like “happiness,” a true self-esteem is an emergent property of objective achievement against real standards and growing autonomy. We look our students in the eye and take them seriously. In an age-appropriate fashion, teachers provide meaningful critique as well as encouragement. There is no grade inflation at French American. We feel that our approach is honest, respectful and, ultimately, truly student– centered. Our graduates are articulate and confident because, at an age-appropriate point, they had to sit down and do substantial academic work.

Q6. Why French in particular rather than Spanish or Chinese? We have not selected the French language and culture as somehow uniquely superior. That would be absurd. However, we do consider the French educational tradition one of the very best. Our reasons for choosing to align with the French ministry of education are matters of historic contingency rather than the fallacious notion that French has more global significance than Spanish or Chinese. The French Baccalaureate has an uninterrupted pedigree dating back to the Napoleonic reforms of 1808. French education is highly rigorous and maintains its standards by a high degree of direct control from the Ministry of Education. The success of the French school system in France is based on national buy-in. French citizens place a very high priority on the role of education and educators in society. France is unique in its willingness to spend taxpayers’ money to provide quality French education abroad. Since the historic contingence of our founding in 1962, we have proud to been part of the global network of French schools abroad. At the time of writing, in San Francisco only the French schools offer a bilingual education, based on externally-set standards, that continues into high school. Our PK-12 education culminates in diplomas that are recognized by universities worldwide. Our “lifer” students choose between the French Baccalaureate and the prestigious Bilingual International Baccalaureate Diploma.

Q7. What do we mean by diversity and why is it so important to us? Our students are immersed in diversity. It is not something that can be taught You learn diversity by living it. It’s how you think, accept, love and appreciate different ways of living. It is not just tolerance. Our children are being “immersed” – psychologically and emotionally – in diversity. We can compare this to being immersed in a language or being immersed in a culture. Bilingualism, internationalism, and an early appreciation for diversity are keys to understanding, and communicating across, other cultures. Our “lifers” obtain two or more cognitive windows on the world. The intention is not that our students necessarily take on alien points of view. Rather, they should look first to their own language and culture (or combination of various ones). Thus, from a position of strength with regard to their own identity, students are encouraged to gain a profound understanding and enjoyment of the diversity of the human experience. Out of this learning process, much of it through direct experience – think of exchange trips; diverse peers and international faculty; and at least two discrete, undiluted cultures existing side-by-side – emerges a richer and examined understanding of the both “the other” and the self. In this way, we prepare our graduates for leadership roles in tomorrow’s world and nothing less than constructive and fulfilling lives.

Experience the world.


Frequently Asked Questions  
Frequently Asked Questions