French President to reaffirm commitment to French education in U.S.

Published: Dec. 1, 2022 at 10:43 PM CST
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - On Friday, New Orleans will welcome French President Emmanuel Macron to New Orleans, a first for the city in decades. The dignitary’s visit will be a chance to highlight the historical ties between Louisiana and France and plan for the future of the French language and culture within the state.

Among Macron’s many stops, he will visit the New Orleans Museum of Art and announce the creation of a fund for the French language, which will support French classes and programs in schools across the country.

That’s welcomed news for the teachers and students at the International High School of New Orleans, as they spent their Thursday afternoon preparing dances, speeches, art and performances for its annual French Heritage Festival. (Friday from 2 pm - 3:30 pm)

It’s been weeks in the making, spear-headed by many faculty members, including French teacher Dr. Benedict McKarty.

“What we are doing is really in the heart of what New Orleans believes in, Louisiana believes in,” McKarty said. “We are a part of French culture.”

McKarty is originally from Rwanda and fled with his family to Lafayette in 2005 as a refugee. Since then, he has made it his mission to teach the French language and captivate young minds. He says he gets an average of 150 students each year enrolled in some French language classes at International High, and he’s impressed with their work.

“After two or three years they speak Frech very well,” he said. “We say that learning a new language is like getting a key to open a door for more possibilities.”

McKarty’s students are a success story that organizations like Télé-Louisiane, a multi-lingual media outlet, want to see more of across the state. According to the Council for the Development of French in Louisiana, just 100,000 students across the state are enrolled in the 26 French immersion schools across eight parishes.

“How can we get to a situation of 20%, 30%, 40% of Louisiana’s public schools are French immersion schools or at least immersion schools of any kind,” Will McGrew, Télé-Louisiane CEO, said. “I think we really need to understand that our French language is a huge economic and cultural advantage and education is really the key.”

McGrew says the French language isn’t far from where it used to be in Louisiana.

“There were about 1 million French speakers in 1970 and now we’re down to several hundred thousand,” he said. “It’s a threatened language.”

That led him to help jump-start Télé-Louisiane back in 2018, providing news and content to French speakers both online and through Louisiana Public Broadcasting. In turn, it preserves the French culture for the current generation and the next one.

“What we think is interesting is that not only is there a population of French speakers but that there is an even larger population, maybe a majority population, that wishes they can speak French,” McGrew said.

McGrew and other advocates hope President Macron’s visit cements more cultural expansion and preservation opportunities across the state. Meanwhile, those doing the work now say they feel rewarded for what they’re doing.

“When I see a young man or a young girl standing here and speaking French, I say this one got it, and then I go to sleep very well,” McKarty said. “I feel that I am in a journey where I will leave something to young people. Somehow, I am paying back what this country gave to me when I came here.”

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