New French American Charter School opens in Harlem

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We first heard about the prospect of of French bilingual school coming to Harlem from our people over at Liveuptown last year when a parent petition was being circulated to submit the charter to the state.  All of the bureaucratic hurdles have been jumped and the school will be opening in September.

Initially the school will serve students in grades K-2, eventually expanding to serve high school students. According to the school’s website, “In year one, we will admit 50 children in kindergarten, 50 children in 1st grade and 50 children in 2nd grade (total of 150 students). Thus, 50 spaces will be provided for children in each grade. If more than 50 students apply for each grade, the lottery will be conducted to assign seats. After the first year preference will be given to returning students and their siblings, and students living in CSD 3.” Mahalia Watson of the website Let’s Talk Schools adds that while District 5 will be given priority during the 2010-2011 school year, they will not be given registration priority after the first year. As a public charter school, NYFACS is open to all New York City students.

The school will be headed by Katrine Watkins, who boasts a very impressive resume. Watkins is the former director of the Special Education School of Paris, assistant director of the French-American Bilingual School of San Francisco, co-founder and former co-head of the French-American School of New York, director of the Al Akhawayn School of Ifrane, Morocco, and founder and former director of the American Academy, Casablanca, a trilingual school in Morocco.

Each class will have one full-time francophone teacher and one aide and will share the English language, social studies, and FLE/ESL teachers. All of the classes will share the English language/social studies teachers. The teachers are purported to reflect the student body.

Instruction will be  75-80% French in all subject areas. They will also offer ESL/FLE* as needed. French language will be used for French language arts, math, science, PE, Art, and Music with 50 minutes of English language arts per day Kindergarten-First Grade and two 50-minute periods of English language arts and Math per day in Grade Two. It will follow the B.O. (Bulletin Officiel which is the official French curriculum guideline) in all classes taught in French while integrating aspects of the American curriculum where they differ from the French.

The school stresses that “NYFACS is not the Lycée Français nor FASNY. NYFACS is more oriented toward different speakers of French, the French diaspora and to people interested in French or international culture. It differs from French schools with the emphasis it places on practical applications in learning/student centered learning, and student-run activities in school.”

NYFAC will have an extended school day with instruction starting at 8:30 AM and going until 4:30 PM.

The school is located at 310 west 120th Street and is part of Community School District 3. NYFAC is renting the entire building which has 4 floors, a common area in the basement and a rooftop.  It is housed in the former location of  Harbor Morningside children’s center that was closed by the city earlier this year due to budget constraints. Harbor Morningside served a population of  children that was comprised of close to 75 percent West African immigrants.

Harlem is an area that is quite linguistically diverse. The Haitian and francophone African population could benefit from having a school that is taught in both their first language and English. It is also beneficial to children whose first language is English, since many schools do not teach foreign languages in the early grades.

You can read the proposed charter and other details on the NYFAC website.