GRAYSON — Like many kindergarteners, the students in Shannon Hayes’ and Janelle Jones’ classes at Trip Elementary on Tuesday morning discussed gingerbread crafts and learned how to use the word in a sentence.
The difference between those Trip students and every other Gwinnett County Public Schools kindergartener is that at Trip, they learned how to do it in French, too.
Those teachers and students also received a visit from representatives of the French Consulate, Attache Alexandre Durand and Deputy Cultural Attache Solene Vilchien.
Nearly five months into the first dual language immersion program in Gwinnett, the format is yielding results that have exceeded expectations for district officials. While English-Spanish programs are also underway this school year at Annistown Elementary and Bethesda Elementary, Trip Assistant Principal Virin Vedder said parents at his school are pleased.
More than 20 students are on a waiting list to enter the program that counts 53 students.
“Parents have supported this by endorsing it in that their kids are still in it,” Vedder said.
And the students haven’t batted an eye.
“They don’t know any different,” Vedder said. “They don’t know this isn’t how it’s supposed to be.”
Hayes, who teaches French, and Jones, who teaches English, said it takes a team effort to teach the entire curriculum in each language with constant communication using the “rollercoaster model,” which means students are in one class in the morning one day, and the afternoon the next day to reach the 50 percent requirement.
“You’re 5 (-years-old), you have to focus,” Hayes said. “They have to be listening, thinking and completely focused. We’re training them to tune into the language.”
Along with the program, Trip’s library has also added more than 50 books in French.
The teachers added that about 85 percent of their students have already met year-end proficiency guidelines.
Jon Valentine, director of foreign language for GCPS, said students are already showing production of the new language, meaning they can write it. Typically, listening and speaking come first when learning a foreign language.
“The students are beating expectations for every goal that we’ve set,” Valentine said. “Our goal at this point is to find out why, so we can replicate it, and support it.”
In January, Vedder said the school plans to have a “conversation day” where students celebrate that they could communicate in French.
The growth of dual language immersion programs has escalated quickly. Five years ago there were two in the state, now there are 12, including a Chinese program in Henry County, German in DeKalb County and French and Spanish in DeKalb, Atlanta Public Schools, Douglas County and Clayton County, Valentine said.
When the program started, Valentine said it was designed with help from the business community that believes that Gwinnett is a destination for international companies, and they need a globally competitive workforce.
The visit from the French Consulate representatives was designed to show the program firsthand, and find ways to get more ideas, resources and materials in the classroom. Durand said he works in six states in the Southeast to improve and maintain communication about education and the French culture in the United States. The consulate offers teacher training, grants and scholarships for students to study in college.