About the Maine French Heritage Language Program

Background

The cities of Augusta, Lewiston and Auburn each have large French-heritage populations and a rich history of French-Canadian and Acadian immigration, work, cultural life, and language. French had been taught in both public and parochial elementary schools for many years. In recent years, however, due to budget cuts, French language classes have been eliminated from public elementary schools in Augusta.

In response to these cuts, the UMA French Club applied for and was awarded a grant from the Canadian organization Le Centre de la Francophonie des Amériques in order to start a pilot afterschool program in French for Augusta elementary students.  This program, entitled LE SOLEIL: UMA Afterschool Program in French for 3rd-6th graders, was held in two Augusta schools: Lincoln Elementary and Gilbert Elementary.  Children met for four weeks after school with UMA students and French-speaking members of the community in dynamic, creative French-language classes.

Building on the strong community interest in French and the need for elementary language classes, we are now looking to create a new after school French immersion program which will draw from a variety of resources and partnerships.

Pilot Project

This pilot project began in September 2012 and is an extension of two successful French Heritage Language Programs established in New York City and Miami under the auspices of the French-American Cultural Exchange (or FACE) in partnership with the French Embassy in the United States. Benoit Le Dévédec, Director of the French Heritage Language Program, all working closely with the organizing team: Dr. Chelsea Ray, UMA Assistant Professor of French; Doris Bonneau in conjunction with the Franco-American Heritage Center in Lewiston; Julia Schulz, language reacquisition specialist; and Gabriella Howard, secretary.

A set of core principles governs the project. In its pilot phase, we’re working in two Augusta public schools (Lincoln and Hussey Elementary Schools), with two groups of children (K-6 in the first group, and K-3 in the second) for a total of 24 children. Classes meet after the regular school day, twice a week.  In Auburn, we are working with one group of students at Sherwood Heights Elementary School on Monday and Wednesday, and with another group of students at Fairview Elementary School.

The classes are taught in French and will follow a curriculum which incorporates the culture and the life of Maine’s French-heritage community. Over time, we hope to invite Franco-American and Acadian leaders and teachers from around the state to contribute lessons which will then be stitched together into a harmonious patchwork quilt of themes and activities.  This curriculum will then reflect to a greater degree the rich history and culture of Franco-Americans in Maine.

Teaching duos and trios are leading the classes, with a teacher, cultural associate, and apprentice in most cases. The teachers all have native or near native ability in the French language and have teaching experience, and cultural associates assisting in the classroom will be fluent in conversational French.  The apprentices are proficient in French and studying French at the 300-level at both UMA and Bates College.

Many partners (see their logos at the bottom of this page) have contributed to the development and successful implementation of the pilot project, including the University of Maine, Augusta schools, the Auburn School District, the Consulate of France in Boston, the Franco-American Heritage Center in Lewiston, and business and community sponsors. Funding for the project is being shared by a variety of public and private partners as well as small tuition fee in Augusta schools.

Future Plans

If the pilot project is successful, we would like to see it extended — whether under the auspices of UMA and the Franco-American Heritage Center, or under some other capable fiscal agent — to other primarily Franco-American communities in Maine and, eventually, to those in other New England states. We intend to design the curriculum so that it can be easily adapted to other communities in other regions.

Thanks and Credits 

This program is made possible by funding from the French American Cultural Exchange (FACE), the Centre de la Francophonie des Amériques, the University of Maine at Augusta, Bates College, the Franco-American Heritage Center in Lewiston, Bangor Savings Bank, and the Maine Humanities Council.

For additional information, please contact Doris Bonneau at dbbonneau@roadrunner.com or call (207) 782-7272.

Auburn School Dept logoCFA Logo UMA logoBSB_logo Logo FHLP300 MHCnew-logofrancoamericanheritagecenter_170 BatesLogo_ws