Uny Chan/The Oklahoma Daily

Ronald Reagan Elementary School, which will open next year on 24th Avenue Southeast, will split a school day in half to immerse students in a new language. Kindergarten and first grade students will study mathematics and science in French for half a day and learn language and social studies in English.

The idea is modeled after the Canadian and continental European system. Students will have a chance to study some subjects in a non-English language instead of typically learning new languages in a separate class.

“We choose to teach math and science in French because they are concrete facts,” said Janet Gorton, Norman Public Schools world language director. “Hence, it will cause less confusion among our young students.”

Oklahoma signed an educational partnership with the Académie d’Amiens in France in 2007. The OU College of Education and the Université de Picardie Jules Verne in Amiens, France have developed an exchange for pre-service teachers.

“The exchange between the [college of education] and the [French university] offers non-native speakers an opportunity not only to work on their French language skills, but to learn how French classrooms work from the inside, observe classroom management and learn specialized vocabulary,” said Jennifer Robinson, adviser for the college’s Global Educations program.

Teachers interested in the program will have to be fluent in French and must hold an Oklahoma teaching certificate in early childhood or elementary education, Robinson said. The requirement applies to native English and French speakers.

Former Honorary Consul of France to Oklahoma Barbara Thompson approached Norman Public Schools about starting an immersion school last year. The public schools may receive more languages thanks to support from French Consul General Pierre Grandjouan, who pledged to add more languages using the immersion model.

The first graduating class will take 50 students in from the Reagan district. Norman Public Schools is currently working on the application process. The immersion courses will begin when Ronald Reagan Elementary School opens next year.


Additional Information

An information session will take place from 3 to 4:30pm, on Sept. 6, Tuesday, during the International Education week at JRCoE for those who are interested in this program.

The Norman Transcript

Sun Aug 28, 2011, 01:54 AM CDT

NORMAN — When Ronald Reagan Elementary opens on 24th Avenue Southeast about this time next year, it will have a decidedly French twist. It will be Norman Public Schools’ first language immersion school. One kindergarten class and one first grade class will spend half of the day immersed in the French language.

Math and science will be taught in French. Language and Social Studies will be taught in English. It’s a great fit with kindergarten and first grade since their academic knowledge is at a basic level, just like their language.

Most of the approximately 50 slots will be open to students who live in the Reagan district and a few seats will likely be available to students who desire to transfer into the new school and learn French language and culture. With no boundaries set and no indication of parents’ choice, school officials say they will be developing a selection criteria in coming months.

The immersion concept is patterned after the European and Canadian models where children are introduced to languages other than those spoken at home. Lawmakers in Utah, seeing the economic development benefits, have mandated immersion goals. If the students are successful, Norman could add additional immersion sites with other languages.

“Children up to the age of about 10 to 12, when they learn a second language, it is actually stored in the same part of the brain and it moves over when they become adults,” said Janet Gorton, NPS world language coordinator. “Younger children are the easiest to teach. They learn it much like they learn their native language.”

The students will stay together through elementary school, most likely with different teachers. If a student leaves Reagan, another one could transfer in if they were language proficient.

Teachers have yet to be identified but Gorton says she expects to have many candidates. The district is working with the OU College of Education which has a partnership with a French teachers college. Teachers must be proficient in language and also certified in early child development. The program’s goal, beyond language proficiency, is that students meet all of the district’s academic goals.

Sherry Cox, OU assistant dean in the College of Education, said two potential teaching candidates have been identified. One is a native French speaker and the other was a French major who switched to the College of Education. She said the program is unique in that teachers must be certified as well as proficient in language and culture.

“We’re trying to homegrow our teachers. You’re teaching the content to the students, not just the language,” she said.

The partial day immersion came out of a global awareness thinking process.

“It’s a great idea for Norman but it was in the dream category,” Cox said. “Dr. (Superintendent Joe) Siano saw the beauty of it. In the globalized society that we have now, there is a need for these type of programs,” Cox said.

Gorton said Tulsa schools have an immersion project in French and Jenks schools have a Chinese program.

“We found that, from talking to everyone, one of the challenges is making sure you have the proper staff,” Gorton said.

By going the way of partial immersion, teachers can use English to reinforce concepts learned in French. Students will also learn the French culture.

“You can’t learn language without learning culture,” she said. “Students love cultures of the world.”

Norman currently teaches courses in Spanish, French, Latin and Chinese. She senses excitement building for the program at Reagan.

“I think what’s really great is to have a district, at a time when finances can be challenging, to go out there and do something that’s really progressive.”

Andy Rieger editor@normantranscript.com


Skip to toolbar