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How Schools' French Dual-Language Programs Are Changing NYC Neighborhoods

By Amy Zimmer | May 26, 2015 6:41pm
 Carroll Gardens, Greenpoint and other areas attract families to their French dual language programs.
How French Dual Language Programs in Public Schools Change NYC Neighbohoods
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BROOKLYN — There's always been a relationship between the desirability of a neighborhood and the schools that are within it, with high-performing schools often contributing to gentrification.

A recent surge in French dual language programs has made these changes in certain Brooklyn neighborhoods more visible — and audible.

French speakers who first moved to Carroll Gardens, Clinton Hill and Bedford-Stuyvesant years ago have attracted more as French programs opened in local schools.  That spurred a rise in French-accented cafes, shops and preschool programs, all of which are tracked closely by real estate agents.

"I'm getting a lot of interested calls from real estate agents," said Fabrice Jaumont, the education attaché for the French Embassy's New York office who has been instrumental in pushing for dual language programs across the city. "They want to know where the next programs will be. They jump on those things."

Jaumont has witnessed the transformation firsthand in Greenpoint, where he moved in 2001. The numbers of French speaking families there has grown since, as expats were lured by the neighborhood's French dual language program at P.S. 110, which started in 2011.

"More and more French-speaking families are moving near the school to get a chance to get in the program," said Jaumont, whose daughter attends the program.

With 120,000 people in New York City who speak French at home and an estimated 22,000 kids under the age of 18 in these homes, according to 2012 Census data, Jaumont hopes the number of French dual language programs will expand. Currently roughly 3,000 children get some French instruction in public or private schools, he noted.

In Greenpoint and Williamsburg, hearing French on playgrounds is now commonplace.

Besides a growing number of French restaurants and cafes, there's Greenpoint Avenue's preschool GreenBean and Nassau Avenue's Play, offering French programs for kids, and Coucou Brooklyn in Williamsburg offering French classes and cultural activities for adults. Jaumont's wife is in a French book club with other French moms from P.S. 110, and she screens French movies in Transmitter Park on Greenpoint Avenue as part of Films on the Green, sponsored by the French Embassy.

"I began noticing droves of French speakers all around me maybe about three years ago or so," said Rodrigo "Ro" Guzman, a broker with Douglas Elliman, who specializes in North Brooklyn and has found his ability to speak French to be an asset with clients. "It's constant now in the streets, everywhere you go."

Carroll Gardens, which had the city's first public school French dual language program, saw that program transform the neighborhood.

The P.S. 58 program launched in 2007, a couple of years after the area's French-speaking private school International School of Brooklyn opened. The area, at that time, was already seeing an influx of French families who couldn't afford the Upper East Side and the Lycée Français de New York.

In the first year of the P.S. 58 dual language program there were 24 kids, with French-speaking children coming from across the borough, families said. Now there are 350 children, with a waitlist.

Olivia Ramsey, who offered private French tutoring after teaching in P.S. 58's program for five years, opened her own opened a storefront this past February called the Smith Street Workshop, after her tutoring waitlist kept growing. The space will host its first open house May 30 for its French classes and French immersion summer camp for kids ages 4 to 12.  

As the children from P.S. 58's dual language program are graduating to middle school, Ramsey is helping develop a new dual language program at the School for International Studies, a nearby middle and high school that will offer an International Baccalaureate, which allows students to continue their French education through 12th grade.

"It is very important for those [families] who invest so much time and energy in dual language in the elementary years to see it through to middle and high school," Ramsey said, noting how there's little available for the secondary years.

Dual language programs are often seen as ways to boost family engagement, Jaumont said, noting that parents in such programs are often very involved with their kids' education, often contributing time and money to their schools.

French programs have also recently started in areas like Bed-Stuy, at P.S. 3, and Clinton Hill, at P.S. 20, where many French-speaking families, who are priced out of Carroll Gardens are now moving, many said. And the city's fastest-growing French program is at Boerum Hill's P.S. 133, which accepts students from these Brookyn neighborhoods, too.

Linnea Paton, whose husband, Guillame Marceau, is a French-speaking Quebecois, had hoped to move to Carroll Gardens when buying a year ago. Their budget, however, was more aligned with a one-bedroom that could be converted into a two-bedroom in the Clinton Hill Co-ops, which is zoned for P.S. 20, said Paton, 26, who doesn't yet have children but still had schools on her mind when buying.

"We're both pretty intentional about things. In the future we want to have kids," she said. "At first we were thinking we'd need to move to Montreal when they're little. Then I found out there were French dual language programs in the public system, which is great since private schools are so very selective and expensive."

French-speaking families in Astoria are also pushing for a dual language program.

Madelia Bergeroo, who moved from Long Island City to Astoria three years ago for more space, runs French programs through La Caravane FrancoFun, which will be returning from a hiatus in September with a French after-school and alternative preschool program.

Bergeroo has been fighting — unsuccessfully — for a French dual language program for her neighborhood's growing French-speaking community. Her son, for instance, has three French-speaking kids in his nursery class of 12, she noted.

"I feel that I have to do everything I can to keep the French language alive for my son and the children within our community," she said.