Berets aren’t a mandatory school uniform requirement, but you can bet they’d look pretty chic on the precious, petite pupils who comprise the French American School of Denver, which is currently back in session and already earning top marks for its new schoolhouse.
“Oui, oui. We just secured a new long-term lease in City Park West for the 2022-23 school year and beyond,” said parent volunteer Julie Burck. “The teachers, administrators and parents like me are just thrilled to welcome all the children, from all over Denver, into our beautiful new schoolhouse.”
Serving kindergarten through fourth grade, FASD is Denver’s first and only accredited, tuition-free French-immersion charter school. Its open enrollment is available until full, or Oct. 1, whichever comes first. Since immersion means the teachers and kids communicate almost entirely in French, every day, school officials say kindergarten enrollment is best to lay the foundation for fluency.
“I have done my homework and when you learn what I’ve learned about Two-Way Immersion models — and how fast these kids soak up the language and how the schools just set these kids up for success in life — you’ll understand why I’m so passionate, in particular, about FASD,” Burck added.
Let’s get schooled
Burck, and other parents and administrators, believe FASD is the crème de la crème. Here’s why.
According to the French Ministry of Education, Two-Way Immersion models, regardless of the languages, indicate improved scores in math, reading, vocabulary, mental flexibility, problem-solving skills and increased high school graduation rates. FASD states a Two-Way Immersion model is a specific type of dual-language education that allows students to learn a second language, while continuing to develop their first language.
Emmanuel Bidan, FASD’s director of curriculum, said all schools outside France are subject to evaluation and inspection by the National Education Ministry and the Agency for French Education. In addition, all FASD school curricula surpass Colorado state standards, Bidan added.
“I firmly believe that learning another language is not only learning different words for the same things, but learning another way to think about things,” he said.
Burck and parents love the fact that FASD does not teach common core mathematics, which has scored more than its fair share of criticism. Instead, math courses are taught using Singapore math, which Bidan said is ranked No. 1 worldwide.
Burck said for his son, enrolling in FASD was a godsend, as he had fallen a “oui” bit behind in phonics.
“Literally, one quarter after I enrolled him at FASD, he improved exponentially in writing and oral skills, and he’s now a superb reader in both French and English,” Burck said.
All FASD teachers must be licensed and native French speakers. All FASD students learn and must show proficiency in phonics, vocabulary progression, grammar, verb conjugations, reading comprehension, oral dictation, poetry, text memorization, spelling, songs and even cursive writing.
“The Two-Way Immersion model requires almost complete immersion for kindergarten — 90% French to 10% English,” said Suzanne Acheson, head of FASD. “This accelerates French learning to breathtaking speeds, and it gives students the opportunity to excel academically, socially and culturally.”
They excel on the international job market, too. According to the Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs website, more than 300 million people speak French. It is the fifth most widely spoken language in the world, and it’s the second most widely learned.
Jean Claude Ndefu, a leader in the Denver Congolese community, is impressed with FASD’s outreach efforts to ensure African families who speak French know about the school and how to enroll in their children. FASD officials want to make sure all parents know they have a choice where their children go to school — and that they are not required to attend any institution in which their neighborhood is zoned.
“By being here, my people are struggling in a lot of stuff. This is the opportunity we give our kids to learn this amazing language and I will fight for this school to be here in Denver,” said Ndefu.
Parent Audrey Dumas said some wonder if her daughter Sophie was born in France, because her French is just as good as her English.
“This is our second year at FASD. Sophie’s grandparents are native French speakers and continue to be amazed at how much her French has improved. And on a recent trip to Paris, people couldn’t believe she was born in the U.S.,” Dumas said.
The pièce de résistance? Burck lovesthat tuition doesn’t cost parents one dollar - or euro, for that matter.
“You can clearly see why I’m such an advocate,” Burck said. “Kids get a private school education at public school cost. Free and available to everyone. Which is most definitely not the case at other French-immersion schools around the United States. I looked hard and I found scores of tuition-based private schools starting at, minimum, $20,000 a year for elementary, $40,000 for high school. The very same curriculum they have, we have. I love that.”
And what do the FASD kids love? They serve French fries. Très magnifique.