Growing up, Jacqueline Ouellette was immersed in French culture and language.
Her parents — both natives of France — met in Canada, got married and moved to the United States. They spoke French in their family home, to which Ouellette would mainly respond in English.
But every few years, Ouellette and her sister would travel to France and visit their mom’s eight siblings who remained in their homeland. The two girls quickly learned that if they wanted to play with their cousins, they had to keep their French speaking skills up to par.
“When I was growing up, that’s how I learned the language: by playing with my cousins,” she said. “And so if you’re playing, you’re learning.”
As a French teacher at Spruce Creek Elementary School, Ouellette spent her summer writing curriculum for Volusia County’s brand-new French immersion program, which is now offered at Spruce Creek and Citrus Grove elementary schools.
Volusia County fourth-graders learn French through immersive program
A fourth-grade class at Spruce Creek Elementary School participates in French immersion lesson for program kickoff event Friday Oct. 20.
Per program requirements, Ouellette speaks in French 90% of the time. To make the experience less daunting and more exciting for her young students, she encourages them to learn through playing, just as she did.
“We play versions of Four Corners with the new words that they’re learning, and then I act out a lot of stuff. We’ll also be reading literature that they already know, such as ‘Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Can You See,’ so they kind of already know the language,” she said. “We’re going to play a supermarket game. We’re going to play restaurant in here. We’re going to just do a lot of different things with food and understand how to order it and how to shop.”
Students appreciate that Ouellette prioritizes games, creativity, singing and fun in her classroom.
“I love the French teacher,” said 10-year-old student Kennedy Benning. “She is so sweet and awesome.”
When asked what she liked most about her French classes, Benning said she has fun playing games that teach her how to count in a new language.
And Benning’s mom, Lauren, is as equally thrilled about the program as her daughter.
“I went to an elementary school in New Jersey, a very, very small little school. It was like the smallest schoolhouse on the East Coast,” she said. “And we had French, and I loved it, so I was super excited when I found out that they were going to have French here.”
About the immersive program
Volusia County Schools launched its brand new French immersion programs with kickoff events at participating elementary schools Oct. 20.
More than 1,600 students, kindergarten through fifth-grade, from both Spruce Creek and Citrus Grove elementary schools will learn French during their special area rotations.
Volusia County elementary students learn French in immersive program
Volusia County Schools launches French immersion program at Spruce Creek and Citrus Grove elementary schools.
“These children have a tremendous opportunity … an opportunity to be immersed in a language and a culture,” said Grace Kellermeier, Volusia’s coordinator of world languages, special programs and electives. “It’s an opportunity … for us to become global citizens, to learn about others. It also increases our math and ELA scores because we become problem-solvers.”
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Ouellette said she only sees students once every seven days, which adds up to 26 times throughout the year. Her students will learn how to speak conversationally and informally, and by the end of the year, she hopes they know how to count to 20, recite colors and animal names, use different commands and order food at a restaurant.
This program will feed into the International Baccalaureate French programs offered at Spruce Creek High School and DeLand High School, and it will lead to full French proficiency come high school graduation, according to a press release.
“We know that if we start our children young with learning a language, then that can carry on and open up a lot of doors for them in their lives,” said school board chair Jamie Haynes. “We’re hoping that we can spread this to other schools because as I said, when you learn that other language, nothing’s holding you back from the things that you can do.”