AATF Exemplary French Program with Honors

Geneva Community High School, Geneva, IL
AATF Member: Martha Behlow


MLK Magnet High School

What has made our program special? Most importantly, it is the students who are in our program. They are the reason that we continue to strive to share our passion for the French language and the cultures of the Francophone world. They have been our willing accomplices as we share a learning adventure, and work to mold global citizens.

  1. THE CLASSROOM, first and foremost! – it’s all about the learning, making it fun, relevant, proficiency based, as well as our ability to be "sales people" who continually share the value of learning French, to be multi-culturally aware citizens of the world and literate communicators. Students can begin world languages in 8th grade and continue through level V – Advanced Placement.

  2. French Club – our club is active, fun, and we welcome non-French students as well. Our student leaders have a strong voice in determining our events for the year, we offer "scholarships" to students who can’t afford our events (no questions asked), and our emphasis is on culture, especially food, games, and film. The club provides an opportunity for leadership experience, friendships, and involvement in our school.

  3. Société Honoraire de Français members are inducted in the fall and are expected to participate in French Club events and/or peer tutoring, national events including Le Grand Concours and the AP test, as well as chapter events such as our Journée d’Immersion. For students whose work or sports schedules don’t permit as much involvement, I have a list of 25 opportunities for involvement, including projects which can be completed on their own. Senior SHF members "earn" their tassels, cords, and honor pin through their level of involvement and commitment. Again, students have opportunities for leadership as well and take an active role in running our organization.

  4. National French Week gives our program an opportunity to increase our visibility in the school. We play French music in the halls during passing periods; we participate in the national and chapter contests (videos, essays, trivia); students create Gazettes des Toilettes – eye-catching and informative postings which we put on the inside of all of our bathroom stalls and over our urinals. (I got this idea from our SADD club, which used to post Stall Street Journals!) Our students have had great success with video submissions, which leads to visibility in the community and on social media!

  5. Publicity and visibility in our school and community, Viking Vessel, Social Media – I have found that most of these outlets are hungry for our news. We just have to take the time to write up the news. I try to place an article with photos in our school newsletter, the Viking Vessel, multiple times per year. Our school district’s communications director is really helpful at spreading the good news when something exciting happens in our program – last spring, we had three BIG events – my colleague Pam Cabeen was awarded our chapter’s Prix du Chapitre, and I was thrilled to receive our county’s Regional Superintendent’s Educator of the Year Award, and our program was awarded Exemplary Program with Honors status … which was featured on our school district Web page for four weeks! The beautiful plaque we received from AATF has now been hung in our school, as well.

  6. Student travel opportunities help our students to witness history and culture firsthand and give them opportunities to use their language skills. We do a two-week European trip every other summer.

  7. Student hosting through Échanges Culturels Internationaux: French students come to the U.S. for three weeks, in both July and August, and we have ten to twenty students per year who host a French student. Some students go on to create lasting friendships with their French guests and communicate with them and continue to visit back and forth for many years.

  8. International Week is a time for collaboration, cooperation, and celebration with Spanish and German colleagues and students. We celebrate the languages, the world’s diversity, and generally, become as visible in school as Homecoming Week is. Open mic talent contests, international potlucks, poster contests, a flash mob, and even a video featuring our language students and teachers are among the events we have offered to our world language students at Geneva High School.

  9. Music and Culture are good ways to hook the students’ interest. We watch music videos, dance along with them, sing together, and I have a collection of children’s instruments which they love using as we make a joyful noise. Cultural awareness and learning helps the students to appreciate the world’s diversity through food, the arts, literature, and beyond.

  10. La Francophonie – We continually emphasize that French is more than FRANCE, but a whole world of possibilities. Project-based learning, service projects involving Heifer International, Les Médecins sans Frontières, H2O Africa, and beyond, link studies with service and global citizenship.

  11. Music videos and YouTube channel ~ Who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks? After being inspired by, of all people, an accounting teacher who made a video with his students, I thought, "If he can make accounting seem fun, think what WE can do with FRENCH!"

  12. Grants – We’ve taken advantage of our district’s generous opportunities through Geneva Academic Foundation, which has allowed us to bring cultural opportunities to our students including Tim Mooney’s one man show Molière than Thou (two times), Claudia Hommel’s "Paris in the 1950’s, a musical cabaret." We invite other classes, including drama and music, to join us.

  13. Journée d’Immersion participation, gives our students the unique opportunity to participate with French students throughout the Chicago area in a full-day immersion opportunity. In addition, inspired by fellow French teacher Erin Gibbons, we have had our own do-it-yourself mini-immersions – three-hour events at our school which are easier for some students to fit into their schedules.

  14. Through our involvement in the AATF, attending meetings, becoming an officer, giving presentations, and attending and presenting at the Congrès national, our students benefit from their teachers having their 'finger on the pulse' of French education. Le Grand Concours, La Semaine du Français, Champions d’Expression, and our chapter’s stellar newsletter, Francofeuilles, editor Cathy Kendrigan, provide myriad opportunities for both teachers and students!

  15. Upcoming goals, including a new spectacle. Three years ago we performed an abbreviated version of Les Misérables (en français, bien sûr!) and invited parents to attend. It was right before the movie musical came out. This year … perhaps we can repeat our past success with Le Petit Prince? I will have a new colleague, Molly Shanahan, who has just graduated from college, so I’m sure that she will bring a dose of energy and enthusiasm to our program. Other goals? As Buzz Lightyear would say, "To infinity and beyond!" Use more travel photos in school PowerPoints? Parent newsletter once per month? Opening of school parent letter? Instagram? Scholarship for continuation? The sky’s the limit!

 For full information on applying for Exemplary Program status, click here.  

Created: July 20, 2015
Last Update: July 23, 2015