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Program offers Augusta children chance to learn French

21-week grant, fee-funded French immersion program starts in January

October 29, 2011 

By Keith Edwards kedwards@centralmaine.com
Kennebec Journal
Staff Writer

AUGUSTA -- French will still be spoken in at least some of the city's public elementary schools, even though funding for the elementary French program was cut from the school budget last year.

A new 21-week grant and fee-funded French immersion program starts in January.

The program will be offered to students from kindergarten to grade three at Hussey Elementary School, and kindergarten to grade six at Lincoln Elementary School.

Program organizer Chelsea Ray, an assistant professor of French and comparative literature at the University of Maine at Augusta, said the twice-a-week, after-school program will offer busing from Farrington Elementary to Hussey on the east side, and from Gilbert Elementary to Lincoln on the west side.

"French was cut, so there was no elementary language option in Augusta schools, which we felt was very unfortunate for the children because language is much more easily acquired from birth to age 7," Ray said. "They will be total-immersion courses, because kids are really able to soak it up."

The Augusta School Department cut the elementary French program last year. It consisted of one teacher who instructed fifth- and sixth-grade students at the city's four elementary schools twice a week.

The fee to enroll a child in the new program is $125 parents who sign up by Dec. 1 and $150 after that.

Ray noted the program cost is about $500 per child.

Grant money from UMA, Centre de la Francophonie des Ameriques and the French Heritage Language Program are subsidizing the program. Organizers are looking for new grants to keep the program funded next year, and expand it to 36 weeks.

Ray said the program will not just be about language.

"We'll be doing double duty," she said. "We're not only going to teach the French language, but also the importance of Franco-American culture in Maine. We're going to fuse them into one"

There will be space for 12 students in each of the two programs, and slots in both are still available, Ray said.

To register, parents can contact Joyce Blanchard, UMA's director of university advancement, at 621-3191. Information is also available online at www.uma.edu/mfhlp.html.

The programs will follow the school day, running from 2:45 p.m. to 5 p.m.

A similar program will also be offered in Auburn, with support from the Franco American Heritage Center.

Keith Edwards -- 621-5647

kedwards@centralmaine.com