Santana Mitchell learned how to speak French in Lafayette Parish schools and come July, the city of Paris becomes the teen’s classroom as he participates in a program sponsored by the French government.
Mitchell, 16, is one of 60 students and the only U.S. student selected for the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Institut Français’ inaugural “Génération Bilingue” program. The program brings together bilingual French students, ages 16 to 18, from more than 30 other Francophone countries. The program is a 10-day cultural and educational experience in Paris and Vichy focused on history and the history of art and science, according to the program’s website. In Vichy, students are placed with families for an immersive experience.
“I’m looking forward to just being able to speak with and meet other people,” said Mitchell, who will be a senior at Lafayette High in August.
His trip is fully-funded by the French Embassy, said Marianne Cheramie, Mitchell’s French teacher at Lafayette High.
Mitchell began studying French in the district’s French immersion program. In immersion, classes in subjects other than English language arts, are taught in the foreign language. In Lafayette, the French immersion program begins in kindergarten or preschool and continues through the eighth grade. After middle school, students have the option to take advanced language courses in French at Lafayette High.
Mitchell decided to take advantage of the opportunity because of his love for the language and “parce que c’est vraiment importante de garder notre culture française vivante.” (because it’s truly important to keep our French culture alive.)
That’s a lesson he credits to his French teachers who encouraged him to continue his studies when some of his friends chose not to.
“My teachers always told me that if I continued with it, there would be great opportunities,” he said. “They were right.”
His trip in July is his first one out of the country. The teen is particularly excited about a visit to a volcanic park in the medieval village of Lemptégy.
“I’m extremely proud and happy,” Cheramie said of Mitchell’s scholarship. “It shows French immersion works in Lafayette Parish. He’s a true product of French immersion.”
In August, Mitchell returns to Lafayette High as a senior and will take a French immersion course in world history. He said he wants to continue his language studies in college and major in international studies at the University of New Orleans. At this time, his career choice is uncertain, but not his intentions.
“I want to do something that allows me to use my French daily,” he said.
Follow Marsha Sills on Twitter, @Marsha_Sills.