Careers and Ed: The language of learning - Page 2

Immersion programs make kids better Americans

Never do we use time-outs."

Another big difference, Skoglund says, is the emphasis Americans place on preparing kids for the next step in life, whereas Scandinavian education focuses on the here and now.

"It is important to just be and enjoy whatever you have. We try to create a place where children can be children," she says. "We believe we are academic, but through play and the children's own interests."


The practical implications of this type of schooling are varied, but most people agree that a bilingual education is an asset in the global economy. Furthermore, Bay Area immersion programs seek not to divide children from their American culture but to broaden their understanding of it.

"FAIS adheres to an educational methodology that has been around since the mid-1800s," Fierberg says. "Students are receiving a broad range of education that isn't held hostage to politics and societal conventions. But it is held in the US, so it does incorporate what is going on around the kids into the English curriculum so that they have an idea of the changes in society."

It's also important to note that the FAIS is accredited by the California Association of Independent Schools, the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, and the French Ministry of Education, allowing students to transition uninterrupted to other schools in the United States and in France.

But one of the greatest goals of the program is to help participants enhance a sense of self as they learn about fellow students, their teachers, and the families they meet during homestays in Normandy in their fifth-grade year.

While all this makes immersion education sound idyllic, it can also be overwhelming for young students. FAIS alumni profiles are open, candid, and complex, revealing such a program's potential drawbacks. Some drawbacks are merely annoying, as shown in 1974 FAIS alumna Karen Heisler's memory of adults incessantly asking her to "say something in French" when she was too shy even to say something in English. Others are more serious.

"I remember the solitary struggle with a curriculum that none of my 'at home' friends shared and the lonely uniqueness of going to a school nobody had heard of," she says.

Francis Tapon, a 1988 alumnus, agrees, adding that it was often hard to relate to other people. "We were in a cocoon, sheltered from the real world, where people are proud if they can say, 'Una cerveza, por favor.'<\!q>"

And for many, the value of bilingual education didn't sink in until much later, just one of the trade-offs parents and students are forced to make. The others? It can be frustrating for students new to a language to be in a class with those who are already fluent. Parents often have the extra job of carrying on language immersion through home activities. And teachers say building interest in a culture completely outside themselves is difficult with children, who are the center of their own worlds. But inherent in a commitment to an immersion program is the expectation of roadblocks and challenges.

And Fierberg says it's worth the result, the creation of well-rounded adults who understand their roles in a changing world, whether they use French in an international career or simply to order a bottle of wine at a restaurant. "We'd like for them to see difference as something that's attractive," he says.*