The Pointe Coupee Parish school district this fall will become the latest school system in the state to provide students an opportunity to become fluent in a second language.

The school system held a news conference Friday to formally announce the implementation of its French immersion program at Rougon Elementary — a program officials say honors the parish’s deep ties to Louisiana’s French heritage and that will help mold better students.

“Research has proven the academic achievement levels of students that are functionally proficient in a second language are higher than those that are proficient in a single language,” said Pointe Coupee schools Superintendent Kevin Lemoine.

He added, “The French language was spoken daily in the homes of many in my generation. I personally regret not learning the language as child, but it was something that was not encouraged in schools and homes.”

Opening to students in kindergarten and first grade in August , the program will involve teaching students French literacy, math, science and social studies in French, while English language arts (reading, writing, and spelling) will be taught in English.

Rougon Elementary will become the 30th school in Louisiana with a foreign language immersion program, officials with the Council for the Development of French in Louisiana said Friday.

The school district’s launch celebration Friday drew appearances from Gov. John Bel Edwards, Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser, state Superintendent of Education John White and a host of local legislative delegates and elected officials who all praised the district in its efforts.

At Friday’s news conference, White promised the school district a $10,000 grant from the state’s Board of Elementary and Secondary Education for curriculum development. State legislators from the region also contributed $10,000 to the program in personal donations.

“It’s going to be a summer and school year of extremely hard work,” White said. “For teachers, it is an entirely different level of teaching. We have to take everything we do in school ... and convert it to be taught in an entirely different (language).”

Edwards reminded the audience of the state’s looming financial issues but assured the public a $600,000 allocation to CODOFIL is not on the chopping block of proposed cuts.

“The reason it’s important is because Louisiana kids were once punished for speaking French in school,” Edwards said. “And today, we celebrate the French language in our schools. And we use it as a way to teach our kids and preserve our unique culture and heritage.”

Lemoine said applications are pouring in for enrollment into the program — with nearly 50 percent of the spots in the inaugural class already filled.

The district hopes to add a grade level each year as its inaugural class advances, stopping at the eighth grade. Should interest in the program grow, Lemoine said, it could be expanded into the high school level at its Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Academy set to open this fall.

“This is a unique community with a large Creole population,” he said. “The French heritage runs deep in Pointe Coupee Parish.”

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