New York French American Charter School
Manhattan NY 10027
French immersion program
Cramped facilities; some friction among staff
The New York French American Charter School opened in 2010 in an area of Central Harlem called "Little Senegal," after its population of West African immigrants. Unlike most dual language programs in the city, the school offers full French immersion in grades K-2, with only two hours of instruction in English daily. Starting in 3rd grade, students move between side-by-side classrooms, receiving half their instruction in English and half in French.
The school welcomes all children but is proudly Francophonethe movement that brings unity to people who speak French but are not from France. Parent Coordinator Mamadou Ba, who speaks six West African dialects, said the school was founded "mostly as a transition school for the Francophone children."
The administration has developed a French- and American-based curriculum that they believe takes from the best of both systems. The school day is longer than most and instruction leans traditional by most American standards. In the younger grades, children fill in workbooks, with colorful pages, shipped from France, and there is less emphasis on "invented" spelling common in New York public schools, where kids sound out words to approximate spelling before they can spell the words correctly.
A 3rd grade teacher from Algeria showed off notebooks filled with "la dicte" exercises. This is a written exercise in which students study difficult words a few days earlier (similar to spelling word lists in English) and apply them within the context of a short paragraph read aloud by the teacher. It is a way to master spelling, grammar and oral comprehension. In recent years, the school has added more hands-on lab experiments and hosted its first science fair. Children study plants in the charming vegetable and herb garden on the roof and set up a table to sell the harvest some Friday afternoons. "It's not as strict as in France or as progressive as in America," explained parent and development coordinator Chantal Chanel-Vos.
In most classrooms, we saw different activities designed to match the needs of a range of abilities. Second graders watched a video about the seasons, then cut out pictures of how trees change in the fall and placed them in sequence, while others wrote a sentence or two about seasons. After a lesson on the Civil Rights Movement, a 5th grade French-speaking teacher had one group of children define words such as "racism" and "equality," another group identify the main idea in an article, and a third group summarize the article.
Any interested and willing 4th and 5th grader may meet with a teacher after school to prepare for the Lyce Franais entrance exam. A few have secured full or partial scholarships to the bilingual private school. Additionally, graduates have chosen to attend Columbia Secondary, Booker T. Washington, Mott Hall or the French dual language program at MS 256. With the use of Title 1 funds, given to schools that serve a high percentage of low-income families, the school offers a Saturday Academy to assist children with French or English, as well as academics.
Teachers prepare children for state tests using Engage New York and the Envision math program, so as not to confuse students with the French system, which makes more use of compasses and rulers, said a teacher. Test scores are inching up as the academics become more cohesive.
Friction among staff has been a concern since the school's founding; on the 2016 school survey more than half the respondents said teachers do not trust each other. However, teacher turnover is relatively low, with teachers staying an average of about four years in the school's 7 year life at the time of our visit. French teachers sometimes cannot stay as long as they would wish due to Visa restrictions, said Chanel-Vos.
A long-time educator, Marc Maurice, became principal of NYFACS in 2015, following a principal who had been at the school for two and a half years and brought stability after the school's first years, when parents complained of teachers not being certified, of factions among staff and poor discipline. A more stable board and increased cohesion in discipline and academics are resulting in positive changes.
Facilities are cramped; there's not enough space for a library, an auditorium or a full-size gymnasium, but the renovated building, on a leafy street with stately brownstones brownstones, has an old-world warmth and charm.
Communication is also better. The parent-teacher organization and administration produce weekly newsletters to inform parents of updates in a timely manner.
SPECIAL EDUCATION: Special education teachers assist children in their classrooms or in small groups outside of class. Specialists offer occupational therapy, counseling and speech and language services. There are ESL (English as a second language) and FSL (French as a second language) teachers.
ADMISSIONS: Siblings of current students receive priority, followed by a lottery of District 3 families, and then out of-district applicants. Some spots open in the upper grades. Most students come from District 5 and the Bronx, with a handful from District 3, Brooklyn and Queens. (Lydie Raschka, October 2016)