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French classes propagate heritage
The Republican

By JEANETTE DeFORGE Staff writer

CHICOPEE - Children at St. Joan of Arc-St. George School are beginning the academic year learning to parle Francais.

The new French classes were started in part as a response to concerns that children in parochial schools do not have the opportunity to learn a foreign language in lower grades. Most public schools start language classes in middle school, said Sister Susan C. Lemieux, principal.

Officials also want to preserve the heritage of the school, which was started to educate children of Catholic French-Canadian emigrants. Years ago, most teachers were nuns who spoke English and French. C lasses such as math and social studies were taught in French, Lemieux said.

Many students have parents and grandparents who speak French and some are exited to be able to converse with relatives in a new language, said Gail Boone, school marketing and development director.

But for Ryan Malikowski, a seventh-grader, it is just interesting to learn a new language.

"It would be nice to meet a French person and be able to have a basic conversation with them," he said.

Because money is limited, the French teacher will work a half day and teach students in grades four through eight, Lemieux said.

The school received a $700 donation from Le Cercle Des Dames Francais, a Western-Massachusetts organization created in the 1930s to promote French leadership and scholarship. That money will help buy workbooks and supplies.

"If you keep French in the lower grades, children will continue to learn it," said Murielle Falardeau-Banas, secretary of the organization, who also has grandchildren in the school.

St. Joan of Arc was selected because it is the only surviving area school with French roots, she said.

Because it is easier for young children to learn a language , Pauline C. Dion, a former sixth-grade teacher who is teaching the French classes, said she eventually hopes to expand the program to lower grades.

Dion is bilingual and certified to teach kindergarten through eighth grade. She said she will start with basic conversation and vocabulary.

"I know all the French songs and the French prayers," she said. "Right now I will not cover history like some do."

In her first day with seventh graders, Dion taught the alphabet and a few basic words.

"She taught us to greet people, you picked a partner and you said 'hello' and 'how are you' and 'goodbye'," said LeAnn Rivard, a seventh grader. "It was a short conversation."

Teachers hope most students will continue French after they graduate from eighth grade, and Rivard believes she will.

"In high school, you can take a language and we can take French," she said.