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International Exchanges: The Glennie School

The ACIE Newsletter, May 2002, Vol. 5, No. 3

By Michael Berthold, Co-ordinator, French Immersion Programme, The Glennie School, Toowoomba, Queensland

 


 

One difficulty that immersion programmes face in Australia is the lack of contact the students are likely to have with native speakers of the languages they are learning, especially with children of their own age. Certainly in some areas, such as large cities, there may be significant numbers of immigrants who speak that language, but establishing long-term meaningful relation-ships with these communities is often difficult.

One obvious solution is to establish links with schools in overseas countries with the aim of exchanging correspondence (letters, emails, CDs, videos), students, and eventually even teachers. The Glennie School chose this option as a means of giving their immersion students a meaningful and sustained contact with speakers of French.

The partial French Immersion programme began in 1998 at this Anglican girls school in Toowoomba, a small country town in Queensland, a 26-hour flight from Europe. The girls study Mathematics, Science, History, Geography and French, through French, from Years 8 to 10. The vast majority of the girls have had no contact with French before entering the immersion programme at twelve years of age. Some have had a very minimal contact, but after the first couple of weeks there is no discernable difference in the two groups.

 

A Year 9 Glennie school student, holding the baby, enjoys her host family near Versailles.

To encourage the girls to have a short-term realisable goal, it was suggested that they would have an exchange with a French speaking school during the second or third year of the programme.The 7-week exchange, costing around US$1700 per student, is funded entirely through the fundraising efforts of the parents of the students. There is no government assistance. The pilot exchange programme in 1999 was with a school based in Geneva. The girls spent three weeks in the school, attended classes with their correspondents, and were hosted by families within the school. After the school stay they took part in a tour of the northern part of France.

This exchange proved to be very successful, with the girls÷ receptive and productive skills improving at an extraordinary rate. The following year students from the Swiss school visited Glennie as it was always intended to be a reciprocal arrangement. Unfortunately the Swiss school was unable to continue with the exchange, in spite of the outstanding success of our first attempt. Therefore, for 2001, other schools had to be found.

To cut a very long story short, two schools were found which were willing to host our students, and on the 22nd September 2001, thirty-three excited 14- and 15-year old girls flew to Europe with two of their teachers. It was decided to take both the Year 9 and 10 students every second year so that during the intervening year students from the European schools could visit us.

The Year 10 students stayed in Liège, Belgium, and were hosted by a different family each week due to over fifty families wishing to host an Australian student. The girls handled this changing system very well and made many friends amongst these warm, welcoming people. The Glennie girls performed well at school, with most girls achieving good results in Science examinations given to them in French. In fact, several girls scored higher marks than the Belgian students in their class - a very commendable effort. The Belgian Science teacher was amazed at their performance.

The Year 9 students went to Chaville, near Versailles, France, and also were a credit to themselves and the school. The computer teacher in particular was very impressed by their high level skills and is going to use some of the work developed by the girls for teaching his classes next year.

Feedback from the host families and teachers in both schools was very positive, and they were very impressed with the level of French of most girls - a testament to the effectiveness of the French Immersion Programme. Both schools are looking forward to having more Glennie immersion girls come to stay with them in 2003. In fact, some families have already put in requests to host again next time.

For the next two weeks both groups travelled together in a coach that we hired for our exclusive use. The girls visited the famous chateaux of the Loire Valley, medieval fortresses, art galleries, museums, battlefields of WWI (the Somme where over 46,000 young Australians died), the Normandy landing beaches of WWII, a recreated Palaeolithic/Neolithic site, numerous Gothic and Romanesque cathedrals along with the impressive Mont St. Michel. They also spent ”free’ days in St Malo and Rouen where the girls had plenty of opportunity to hone up their French language skills.

The last week was spent in Paris where the girls climbed the Eiffel Tower, shopped, visited the Louvre, shopped, saw Napoleon÷s Tomb, shopped, saw a play by Molière performed by the Comédie Française, shopped, attended mass at Notre Dame Cathedral, shopped along the Champs Elysées, climbed the Arc de Triomphe…

As we were to fly home from Frankfurt we arrived a day early so that the girls could spend a day experiencing a taste of Germany - too small a taste according to most girls. The girls also found it frustrating as for the first time on their trip they were not able to communicate with the local people - an indication of how comfortable they felt in France and Belgium. In fact, a number of girls suggested that for the next group we should teach them some basic German so that they could communicate with the local people and not have to rely on English, gestures and mime.

This experience truly opened the girls÷ minds to the world and I would be very surprised if most of them did not return to Europe as soon as they can. The world has really become their oyster!

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