MOUNT VERNON — Sharing language and culture is a way to break down barriers and build a bridge between communities, and French students from Mount Vernon High School took to the Public Library of Mount Vernon and Knox County Saturday morning to do just that — bridge the gap between French and English with some of the Knox County community’s youngest members.
The students hosted a French story hour in honor of National French week, and shared their favorite childhood stories translated in French, songs, games and classic French treats.
French teacher Jennifer Bishop explained that her students have been participating in the story hour for eight years, and it is led by her fourth-year AP French students.
“It’s a fourth-year project,” she said. “We read a book ‘La Grammaire est une douce,’ it has to do with language appreciation,” she said.
The project also ties in with translating, Bishop said, which leads to the students picking their favorite childhood stories, translating them into French and laminating them into large picture books.
“I think it gives exposure to different languages and cultures,” Bishop said. “It’s just another opportunity for them to get out and give them an experience, something that’s different for them. And it’s also a great way for the high schoolers to get involved in the community. We don’t have French until they hit the eighth grade, so it allows them to get exposed. I know some of the elementary schools do a little bit of Spanish, so this is just another way to expose them to it. And it’s National French Week, so it makes for a nice celebration for us.”
The students led two large-group stories, which included “Bonsoir Lune,” translated from “Goodnight Moon,” by Margaret Wise Brown; and “Je’taime, Stinky Face,” translated from “I Love You, Stinky Face,”” by Lisa McCourt. They also led a French rendition of “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.” During the story hour the students encouraged the children to repeat words and phrases, like bonsoir (goodnight), je’taime (I love you), lune (moon) and une dinosaure (dinosaur) to provide repetition and understanding to the French language.
After the story hour, the students broke off and helped the children with coloring pages and led individual stories for them. They also passed around a variety of traditional French treats, including meringues, eclair bars and clafoutis to the children and their family members. Bishop explained that these treats were made by the students with MVHS Family and Consumer Science teacher Martha Melick’s Global Foods class. Both classes came together, Bishop said, and helped prepare the treats and it allowed her French students to practice reading through their translated stories.
AP student Chase Barron led a personal reading of her favorite childhood story, “Verdi,” by Janell Cannon for nine year old Nora Gotschall and her mother Jen.
“I like French things,” Nora said. “I like how fancy they sound.”
Nora is a lover of French culture, Jen explained, and has been growing more and more interested in the French lifestyle after starting ballet classes, which she has kept up with for several years. Nora has even gone so far as to use the language app Duolingo to start learning French herself.
“It helps them recognize that there are other cultures and their significance and diversity,” Jen said. “Just to kind of expand their world view and appreciate how others live and do things differently.”
Barron explained that she chose to translate “Verdi” for the project because she loved it so much as child, particularly the drawings of the snakes. She said it reminded her of how she felt as a child, not wanting to grow up, which she felt would change her and turn her into a stereotypical adult. The book taught her not to be afraid of change, she said.
“And it’s just nice to share other languages and expose younger children to other cultures, just to diversify their outlook on the world,” Barron said. “And to try and help to not be afraid to reach out and see other cultures, experience new things and talk differently. It will help them to express themselves in a different way. And hopefully get them to speak French, because French is awesome.”