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Astoria Mom Looks to Start French Dual-Language Program in Queens

 Diana Limongi is trying to gain support to bring a French language program to an Astoria public school.
Astoria Mom Campaigns for French Language Program in Queens
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ASTORIA — Coming from a Spanish-speaking household in Queens, Diana Limongi said it wasn't until she became a mother that she appreciated the benefits of being raised bilingual.

"Growing up, I didn’t want to speak Spanish," said the 31-year-old Astoria mom, who went on to study French in college and is now trilingual. "Now, I'm thankful that they forced me to speak Spanish. I'm fluent, and it's absolutely helped me."

Limongi, a clinic administrator at NYU Law School, wants the same for her 2-year-old son Enzo. She and her husband, an accounts manager for a communications agency who is a native of France, are raising the youngster to speak Spanish, English and French.

But when the couple started looking at nearby public schools, Limongi noticed there weren't any in Queens that catered specifically to Francophones.

Now, she's trying to gain support from fellow local moms to bring a French dual-language program to one of the Astoria's public schools, and is looking to the French Consulate for help.

"My mission is to find out if there's enough interest to put this in motion," she said, adding she's trying to spread the word on Twitter, with printed fliers and by posting on neighborhood blogs.

Dual-language programs are offered by the Department of Education at many schools across the city, and are made up of native and non-native speakers. Classes are taught half in English and half in another language, with the goal of getting children proficient at speaking both.

There are 21 dual-language programs currently offered at schools in Queens, according to a list compiled by the DOE. Nearly all are Spanish or Chinese, plus one Korean program. None are in French.

But Fabrice Jaumont, the education attaché for the French Consulate in New York who advocates for more French education in schools, said the language is gaining popularity with parents like Limongi, who want to raise multilingual children.

"It's no longer a taboo to be bilingual or multilingual...it's a great advantage," Jaumont said, pointing to research that indicates bilingual children perform better at other subjects.

And though French has traditionally taken a backseat in schools compared to languages considered more practical, like Spanish, Jaumont has worked with parents in other neighborhoods to successfully open French dual-language programs in the city.

He said that since 2007, five French dual-language programs have begun and continued to operate — with three in Brooklyn, one on the Upper West Side and a French-American Charter school in Harlem.

Two middle schools — one in Manhattan and one in Park Slope — are launching French dual-language programs this fall, as is P.S. 20 in Clinton Hill.

Jaumont, who started the French language advocacy group New York in French, points to Census data that shows there are an estimated 116,000 French speakers in New York City, including more than 20,000 younger than 17.

"French is a real international language, being spoken on all continents," Jaumont said. "French, in that sense, is a passport to the world."

The DOE has funding allocated specifically for Dual Language and Transitional Bilingual Education, and individual schools looking to start such a program can apply for grants of up to $20,000.

Jaumont said Limongi will need to first put together a group of interested parents, then find a local school principal who is interested in — and has classroom space for — hosting a program.

"What works very well is when parents are very committed, do their research and try to reach out as widely as possible in the community, and then make their case," he said.

Limongi said she plans on trying to locate fellow French-speaking families in Astoria, but thinks many parents will be interested in the prospect of their child learning French even if they don't speak the language themselves.

"I think part of it is parents don’t know that this is a possibility," she said.

Editor's Note: Families who want to get in touch with Diana Limongi about bringing a French dual-language program to Astoria can e-mail her at duallanguage.astoria@gmail.com.