French enthusiasts pack Smith Street on Bastille Day
Photo by Joshua Kristal
It’s a happy day for French families living in Brooklyn.
A French immersion program for kindergarten through 5th grade will launch next year at PS 133, located at 8th St. and 4th Ave., in that transition zone between Gowanus and Park Slope. It is the second such program in the South Brooklyn/Carroll Gardens area.
The PS 133 program will start in September 2011 with one 24-seat kindergarten class, for 12 French-speaking kids and 12 non-French-speaking kids.
An open house will be held at the school on Nov. 19 at 9 a.m. for interested parents.
PS 133’s program will be modeled after the French immersion program at PS 58, which has grown since it launched in 2007.
The new program will launch thanks to a remarkable effort by PS 133’s principal and a group of local parents, lead by French journalist Jean-Cosme Delaloye and parent Brooke Toomey.
The push to start a second French immersion program in the South Brooklyn area started in June. Parents were worried that it would be impossible to get into the French program at PS 58 from out-of-zone, because the program has grown so popular, said Delaloye, the father of a preschooler at PS 133. Rumor has it that PS 58 gets inquiries from parents in France and other French speaking countries about the program, and real estate agents have said that many French families will only consider apartments within the PS 58 zone.
“A lot of parents were getting anxious,” said Delaloye. “The demand for the program is extreme.”
So Delaloye, who lives on 4th Ave., decided to take matters into his own hands.
“When Danielle (Jean-Cosme’s wife) and I got the letter that Léon would start pre-K at 133, we started researching that school. We realized that Ms. Foster-Mann (the principal) and her team had turned this school around in the past three years, but somehow the word was not getting out in the community.”
A newly refurbished building is under construction for PS 133, at 4th Ave. and Baltic Streets, and is slated for completion in September 2012.
“I told the principal about the French program and she loved the idea,” Delaloye said.
The program began in a test basis in September with a French after-school program for preschoolers. Some 15 kids enrolled in the program, half French and half not.
“We launched the after school in September with an innovative model: French parents basically financed the after-school for non-native children from the school to help them learn French. The program is a big success,” Delaloye said.
Many attribute the rise in the local French population to the French immersion program at PS 58, which launched in 2007. Carroll Gardens parent Elizabeth Hays wrote a great piece for The New York Daily News last year about the spike in the French population in South Brooklyn, once a stronghold for the Italian community. It was once said that South Brooklyn had the largest population of Italians outside of Italy. Today, there are some 20,000 French citizens here, according to Hays’ article.
Delaloye said that PS 133 Principal Heather Foster-Mann and her team worked intensively to make the French program a reality. The EFNY (Education Francaise New York) and the French Embassy have also supported the effort.
Foster-Mann said she’s already gotten emails from interested parents.
“We’re looking for a way to grow our school,” Foster-Mann said. “Language is a huge part of our culture and environment. The interest is out there and it matches with efforts we already had underway. Having the parent group is really important.”
The program will start small.
“We hope when our new school is ready, we can grow the program,” Foster-Mann says, if the interest is there.
French children who apply to the program will be assessed to determine their fluency. The program will prioritize kids in the zone.
“If we can’t fill the class with kids in the zone, we’ll go outside,” Foster-Mann said. “That’s how we’ll build our base.”
The French Embassy is purchasing $5,000 worth of books and providing summer training in France for the teacher. The French government will provide interns to the school.
The Department of Education gives grants for immersion programs. The grants last year spanned from $20,000 to $30,000, Foster-Mann said.
Rumors circulated earlier this summer that the DOE hoped to make PS 133 a “destination,” school, and plans have been floated by the city to enlarge the school’s zone, though nothing has been proposed formally, Foster-Mann said.
Will PS 133, a tiny community school with a small zone, become a “destination”?
“The more the better,” Foster-Mann said. “We are happy to have whomever wants to come. We are really trying to be a great school. We want to hold our own next to great schools out there. When people say, PS 133, I want people to say, “Ahh, I’ve heard about that school. That’s what we’re working on. We’re a diamond in the rough.”
If you want to contact the principal, her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information on the new French immersion program, contact parent coordinator Ahmed Dickerson at: 1-347-563-5321
P.S.133 Open House
The William A. Butler School
211 8th Street (Corner of 4th Avenue)
Park Slope, Brooklyn