A Brief History of the Maine French Immersion Weekend Program

“French in the Woods” began as a UMaine/Tanglewood 4-H Camp program in 1991 or 1992. The idea was born at a meeting which the late Les Hyde had convened to brainstorm programming at Tanglewood. Carney McRae and Julia Schulz had the idea of a Spanish immersion weekend. This ran for the first time with a grant from UMaine-Orono as seed money. As Co-Founder, and President of Penobscot School in Rockland at the time, Julia Schulz developed the weekend program as an annual event with Penobscot School the main sponsor. French, German, and even Chinese weekends followed. Her model was the UM-Orono “Deutsche Woche” led by Professor William Small.

The original French Immersion Weekend Staff included Professor Raymond Pelletier (UMaine-Orono); the late Professor Richard Williamson (Bates College); French Teachers Julia Schulz, Elisabeth Goodridge, and Irène Marchenay; and French Teacher and former Tanglewood Instructor and Board Member, Charles Hicks. The foundational curriculum for the weekend was the 4-H Earth Connections unit, which Charlie Hicks translated into French. All activities, including sports and meal preparation, were “hands-on” with communication entirely in French.

In the early 2000’s the French immersion weekend languished for a variety of reasons. In 2009, UMA Professor Chelsea Ray and Julia Schulz teamed up to revive the weekend. From 2010 until 2017, they ran a French immersion weekend every year, at either Tanglewood or Blueberry Cove Camp, with up to 60 in attendance. Participants included high school and university students, French teachers, and interested adults, from all over Maine and also from Massachusetts. UMA French exchange students from the University of Bretagne-West and IIE Exchange Teachers from France assisted in teaching and conversation in French.

In early 2018, when the Penobscot School administration was no longer able to continue its sponsorship, Professor Chelsea Ray offered to host a one-day French immersion on the UMA campus, in collaboration with the Maine Chapter of the American Association of Teachers of French.

One of the assets of this program is the richness and variety in the teaching staff. Participants have access to all of the talent, skills, and experience these teachers possess. Furthermore, they are all trained and extremely competent in French immersion teaching, a specialty that many instructors cannot claim. And last but not least: all are volunteers for the immersion program. Their only compensation is the opportunity to be part of the community of learners working together toward a common purpose in a beautiful, natural, and peaceful place. This has allowed us to keep tuition low and still cover our expenses.

By: Julia Schulz