"This is the Moment"

Today students take the language pledge, and start their summer of language immersion.

June 29, 2016

The world is no longer quiet here at St. Michael’s College—instead, it’s filled with conversation, laughter and dedicated students. Today marks the first full day for the students at the French Academy.

There was no room for a pause from yesterday’s business, for the classes began today immediately following breakfast. Divided by the students’ language skills, French Academy students poured into each classroom ready to take on all that the teachers have in store for them.

In these classes, there was a range of “Survival French,” poetry and French theatrical history being taught to all of the students. Here’s a brief overview of what happened in some of the classes today:

In Monsieur Brown’s class, students with less proficiency in French were taught the basic “Survival Skills” that are needed in order to make it through the next few days of immersion. They created small autobiographies, highlighting their family backgrounds, school lives and what’s important to them.

Monsieur Hancock’s class, which was made up of students with prior knowledge of the language, dove into a class of poetry, creating “Acronym Poems.” In these poems, students took the letters of their first name, and then wrote a poem entirely in French, in which each line started with a letter corresponding to their name. An example of one can be found in the photo gallery.

Monsieur David instructed his class on French theatrical history, in which they analyzed and discussed this topic and connected it back to French culture—additionally, they learned about the controversies surrounding theater in French history. Tomorrow, students will be acting out their own play!

After this set of classes, students were sent off to lunch, during which they had the chance to give their brains a much-needed break. Similarly to yesterday, the students of the French Academy hopped right into friendly discussion upon arrival to the dining hall, conversing about all of Day One’s classes and what they learned.

Once lunch was completed, the students returned to their classes; however, the classes to which they returned were different. Classes that take place after lunch are deemed “cultural exploration courses,” meaning that they offer students the chance to improve upon their conversational French, while simultaneously learning more about the rich culture that surrounds the French language.

Monsieur Davis led one of these classes. In his cultural exploration course, students partook in interactive question-based stations. So, at one station, there would be a question that the kids—who were split into pairs of twohad to discuss amongst themselves. After a short period of time, Monsieur Davis would shout, “BOUGEZ,” which, in French, means “Move!” At which point, students would move to the next station, and then proceed to discuss that station’s question.

The cultural exploration classes lasted approximately two hours. Afterwards, students moved to what was next on their schedule: afternoon activities.

During the afternoon activities, Residential Educators (REs) organized the students into several groups, and then did an array of activities to get the kids moving—all of which were en Français!

One activity was improv, which enabled students the chance to brush up on their acting skills. In today’s session of improv, an RE started off the class by asking them: “What words do you think of when you hear ‘improv’?”

The answers to this question varied. Some students said “movement;” others viewed improv more as a “dance.”

Regardless of the answers, they all rooted back to what most agreed to be the central theme of improv: interpretation. When engaging in improvised scenarios, students were told they’ll have to get a feel for what is going on, and then interpret what they should say or do.

In the improv session, students participated in several games. One of which was the “1-10 Game,” which honed in on learning French expressions and the vernacular around expressing feelings of “frustration” or “happiness.”

The RE leading the activity would shout out a feeling, such as: happy (In French, of course!). Then, the students had to personify that emotion. The RE started with “1,” and then ramped it up to “2” and “3” and “4” and so forth. Once the students arrived to “10,” which was 100% HAPPY, they were running around the room shouting and flailing their arms around as if they had just won the lottery.

The ultimate goal of this activity was to engage the students in a way that allowed them to learn some French phrases, and then have some fun expressing the aforementioned emotions.

Dinner came afterwards and went by quickly. After dinner was the highpoint of the day: the Language Pledge® Ceremony.

French students dressed in their best clothes, and then made their way to the auditorium to “officially” commence their time here at the Academy.

The Language Pledge® is a binding contract to which all students must adhere while at the Academy. It restricts them to only being able to speak French; from hereon out, absolutely NO English is to be spoken by the students, except in the times they call home to their families.

Before they pledged themselves to this contract, David Sainsily, the Language Director for the French Academy, took the stage for an introduction.

Upon arriving on the stage, he said to all the students in the audience, “So this is it. This is the moment.”

He proceeded by saying, “You all have a multitude of reasons for why you’re here tonight.” Then, he spoke directly to the students in the audience, asking them to announce what inspired them to learn French.

After this brief discussion, he spoke about the emotions kids will feel during the Academy. And this being his ninth year of experience, he has come to understand the psychology behind the program.

“You can pretty much narrow down the emotions you will be feeling to four things,” he said. Here are the four emotions David Sainsily predicts most kids will experience:

  • Excitement
  • Fatigue
  • Frustration
  • Bliss

“Bliss,” he said, “is when everything begins to make sense.” It’s the moment in which students are no longer thinking about French—but instead, thinking in French.

It’s a path that leads to success, according to David Sainsily. Through experiencing the struggles and the joys, students are able to come to the final destination: language improvement.

“Embrace this experience,” he said.

And once this was done, he, along with all the students, recited the Language Pledge®. And just like that, the students began their journey.

Day One: Complete.

It's Pledge Day: Get Ready