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Ridgewood High students teach French language to Calusa Elementary kids

By Michele Miller | Times Staff
Published: March 28, 2017 Updated: March 29, 2017 at 08:49 PM
Ridgewood High School student Ricky Kernon, 18, helps Calusa Elementary students Maliyah Simon, 7, from left, Jeremiah Jaros, 7, and Journee Prim, 7, with French words for colors. Each week, Ridgewood High students make the short trek to nearby Calusa Elementary to help first-graders learn some basic French, through a new program called French Foreign Language Experience. Lately, they have been working on colors and numbers. Here, working on a coloring worksheet, are, from left, Maliyah Simon, 7; Ricky Kernon, 18; Jeremiah Jaros, 7, and Journee Prim, 7.



That's a new greeting for first-grade students in Jennifer Daly's classroom, one they are warming to nicely courtesy of the new French Foreign Language Experience program.

Since early February, Ridgewood High School students have been making a trek each Thursday morning to Calusa Elementary School to impart a 30-minute lesson on the basics — French greetings, numbers and colors — along with some unfamiliar pronunciations of those words. It has many first-graders, as well as their teacher, favoring the color bleu these days, mostly because there's a funny facial contortion that seems to go with rolling the word off the tongue.

On the other hand, jaune (yellow) can be more difficult to remember for pupils like the rather precocious Natalia Summers, 7. She appeared stumped when Gary Rodriguez, 17, picked up a No. 2 pencil and asked, "What color is this?"

"How about this one?" she countered, picking up a darker-shaded pencil, and offering a more mastered French pronunciation of "orange."

Yes, it is the same spelling, but there's different pronunciation. There's a shared laugh about Natalia's quick wit. Then it's off to pointing out the different colors in the room — the noir (black) lettering on the blanc (white) board, Rodriguez's gris (gray) jacket. After that comes a game of color bingo.

The FLEX program is a collaborative work in progress, which evolved after Ridgewood High French teacher Angela Smith brought members of the school French Club to Calusa to sing holiday carols before winter break.

"The kids loved it," Smith said. "They were learning a little bit of French and asking my students all sorts of questions — 'How do you say this? How do you say that?' "

That hatched the idea to pilot a program between the two schools that would capitalize on the youngsters' eagerness and their ability to learn a foreign language.

Younger students typically are better learners when it comes to language, Smith said, noting that they also enjoy the collaboration — and might be more open to learning — with older students.

"In later life, it is harder," she said. "There are a lot of studies out there about that. It is pretty much indisputable that it's easier to learn when (students) are young."

Daly backs that up.

"My students are like little sponges," she said. "They pick it up a lot quicker than I do, and I'm learning a lot already."

The curriculum is a work in progress, Smith said, adding that lessons planned for each week rely heavily on feedback from the students. After their weekly lessons, both the Ridgewood and Calusa students gather with their respective teachers to discuss what worked or didn't work — what they liked or didn't like.

Sometimes that means more review, often with a new spin, whether it be a "French for Kids" YouTube video, a new game or perhaps a song that helps pull things together.

So far, the response has been stellar, Daly said.

"It's pretty good," said Chloe McMillion, 7. "We're learning the numbers and colors. It's a little easy and it's a little hard sometimes. I know what I'm saying, but sometimes it's hard to pronounce."

As for the high school students, they get a little review on what they learned a few years back, as well as the teacher's perspective.

"Just teaching them is fun. They smile because they're learning French," said Javon Wright, 18.

"They get a head start on learning another language," Rodriguez said. "They learn about another culture, too, so they're not just focused on their own culture. It opens their world up."

Contact Michele Miller at [email protected] Follow @MicheleMiller52.