The French consul general, his government’s top representative in New Orleans, has been actively exploring how to advance the idea of a French high school in the city, he said last week.
Officials at a number of elementary schools that offer French immersion programs have long discussed such an idea, but one of the fundamental concerns has always been the same: that there might not be enough students fluent in French to justify a high school.
A review of the enrollment at area French immersion programs, however, suggests that may be changing.
At six schools in Orleans and Jefferson parishes — Audubon Charter, Ecole Bilingue, Hynes Charter, the International School of Louisiana, Lycee Francais and J.C. Ellis — a total of more than 1,700 students are now in French immersion programs, according to enrollment figures provided by each school.
In immersion programs, students receive instruction in all or most of their classes in the target language, rather than just taking an individual language class.
Still, the figures also show that the number of students in these types of programs tends to dwindle in the upper grades. That’s largely because whenever a student leaves such a program, he or she can only be replaced by a student who is already fluent in the language. Only Audubon and ISL extend French immersion all the way to the eighth grade, and they have only 31 French-immersion students combined in that grade.
It would take more students than that to make a high school financially sustainable. According to the New Orleans Parents’ Guide to Public Schools, enrollment at campuses serving grades 7-12 ranges between 400 students and more than 800. On average, smaller New Orleans high schools have about 100 students per grade, while larger ones have about 200 students per grade.
But in the not-too-distant future, New Orleans may indeed produce enough French-fluent students to make a high school possible.
Figures show there are now close to 325 kindergarten students in French immersion classes at the six schools.
And a high school could draw students from across both New Orleans and Jefferson. If the school holds what is known as a Type 2 charter, given by the state school board, students from anywhere in Louisiana could attend.
In any case, the French consul general is in favor.
“Of course, it’s a goal,” Gregor Trumel said during a meeting with parents at Lycee Francais. “Perhaps not next year, but in the following years.”
Trumel told parents he recently held an exploratory meeting with leaders of Benjamin Franklin High School and that he plans similar discussions with Lycee Francais.
After the meeting, Trumel clarified that the consulate is not interested in opening the school itself, only in determining the fastest course to a French high school program.
“It’s just to study the school network in New Orleans, and find out which schools would be open to it,” he said.