AATF Exemplary French Program with Distinction

St. Luke's School, New Canaan, CT
AATF Member: Jon Shee


St. Luke's School

 St. Luke’s School is a private country day school in New Canaan, CT that has no religious affiliation...and never has! St. Luke’s has 549 students in grades 512. Our teacher-to-student ratio is excellent, with about one teacher for every 8 or 9 students on average for each section.  

In the 2014-15 school year, 106 middle schoolers and 91 upper schoolers studied French, which is a total of 197 students, or 39% of all students grades 612 who study French! (Note: 5th graders only take Latin)

As we are a small school, it is a wonderful thing that there are 3 full-time plus 2 part-time French teachers. Fortunately for our French program, we have always had plenty of resources at our disposal. Our budget has exceeded our demands every year. Technology items are always provided by the school without any difficulty, and we can update textbook series whenever we like. The school administration is highly supportive of the French program as are the parents and the students. There are three large French classrooms that are dedicated to French learning, and French students also use frequently our state-of-the-art digital language lab.

All teachers have a commitment to full immersion, French only environment, from the middle school through to the upper school. Students ask their questions in French, and English is not permitted in our classes. We are proud of our 100% French only environment. Our school is known in the area as having an innovative, successful French program, and “word gets out” thanks to the many presentations that our French teachers do locally, regionally, and nationally.

A few professional highlights about our French teachers are below:

  • All St. Luke’s French teachers are members of the AATF and attend at least one AATF event per year, though most of us attend most or all local AATF events.
  • Three of the St. Luke’s French teachers (Jon Shee, Amber Berry, and Evan Downey) are active Executive Board members of the Connecticut AATF Chapter. Jon Shee serves as President and Amber Berry is the Directrice du Grand Concours. Evan Downey helps organize many AATF events each year and is the key organizer of our Réunion printanière.
  • Jon Shee is the Upper School World Languages Department Chair, and Amber Berry is the Middle School World Languages Department Chair. Together, they supervise a total of 11 other teachers.
  • Beth Yavenditti is the Director of Global Education at St. Luke’s and organizes our decade-old exchange program with St. Michel de Picpus in Paris, as well as other global programs. She has been teaching French ever since she arrived at St. Luke’s, but this year she is focusing on global-related courses.
  • Jon, Amber, and Evan have presented many conferences about French, world language learning, and technology, and Jon and Evan attended the national AATF conference in New Orleans last year.

As part of expansion efforts, over the past two years we have been actively encouraging students to study TWO world languages via media blasts, announcements, and public posters, and currently over 10% of our total student population in grades 7-12 take advantage of this fantastic opportunity. The majority of students taking two world languages have chosen French as one of their two courses.

Middle school students who demonstrate excellence in French have their own special, accelerated courses called French MS1 and French MS2, which are completely separate courses from those of their regular-level counterparts who take courses French A and French B. There is great articulation throughout our entire program, and the French team meets regularly to make sure that goals are met and that students are appropriately challenged while reaching benchmarks of mastery.

Here is the scope of classes that we offer, arranged by the typical paths of regular and accelerated/honors/AP students:

6th grade 6th grade French (1/2 year, daily study)
7th grade French A French MS1 = acceletated
8th grade French B French MS2 = accelerated
9th grade French 2 French 2 Honors
10th grade French 3 French 3 Honors
11th grade French 4 French 4 Honors
12th grade French 5 AP French Language & Culture


 Given the fact that we are a smaller school, we are proud to be able to offer such a wide range of options with 15 separate sections of French (Note: This year, we even have two sections of Honors French 2).

At the top levels our numbers are very strong, considering the many other options that juniors and seniors can choose at our school. Many seniors are drawn to new electives in other subjects, and many of them must take required courses for our specialty diploma programs, so the fact that we still have so many seniors signed up for French (26%) is fantastic.

We are quite proud of the results for our top-level programs, as reflected by excellent AP scores and SAT 2 scores, as well as by students’ comfort with speaking only in the target language at all times and their regular willingness to take risks with the language. The grand majority of our seniors who complete our level 5 or AP classes graduate with at least basic fluency in the language, in that they can express themselves only in French in virtually any real life situation that they encounter. Many graduates exceed basic fluency standards and maintain their French skills over time.

Beyond seeing our students’ results through simple test scores, we have excellent success in terms of our alumni continuing on with French after graduation, either at college or at work. We receive regular emails from alumni saying how they have placed into higher level French classes at college, or how they are the most comfortable of their peers in terms of speaking French in their college classes.

Our teachers follow a highly student-centered model of teaching in which students can speak French as much as possible. We focus on creating the maximum amount of opportunities for small group work and pair work in order to allow students to communicate often (and comfortably) in virtually every lesson.

For four years now, regular one-on-one videoconferencing sessions with students abroad are part of many courses’ curricula, and provide students with the ultimate authentic experience in which to communicate with peers in the target language. Sessions follow a richly structured activity that is planned ahead of time between St. Luke’s teachers and the teachers abroad. Thanks to our videoconferencing work, we have created many long-lasting relationships with schools abroad. One great result was that Delphine Nicolas, a videoconferencing partner and English teacher from the Lycée de la Salle in Rennes, France, spent over a week on our campus last year as a visiting teacher in our French program.

 We have given Le Grand Concours every year for at least 15 years. In addition to Le Grand Concours, we present the AATF Outstanding Senior in French Award each year, and we also send a nominee for the Connecticut-based “AATF Senior Prize.” Our French students often participate in the COLT Poetry Competition as well.

Cultural elements and travel are deeply integrated into our curriculum. We offer many real life cultural experiences to our students, such as guest speakers, workshops, French film evenings, French cooking lessons, trips abroad, and much more. Our middle school program offers a biannual trip to Québec that is incredibly popular. Middle school students also have done a full exchange program with a school in Toulouse in which students from France came to St. Luke’s for 2 weeks during the school year, and then our students went to Toulouse to do the same later in the year. Our upper school has a longstanding partnership with a private school in Paris, St. Michel de Picpus, and this year marks the 10th anniversary of our relationship. Every other year, we do a full exchange program with St. Michel de Picpus in which their students come to our campus for 2 weeks and then ours go to Paris in June for 2 weeks. This is an incredibly rich exchange program and it continues to thrive after a decade.

A major languagebased celebration at our school is called World Language Week, and it is a yearly event that usually takes place in late April. Though our students do get involved in National French Week activities (like this year, when we brought 138 students to the official Connecticut AATF Chapter National French Week event called Molière Than Thou), the French program puts a huge amount of effort into our involvement in World Language Week. French students in grades 6-12 engage in many different activities that draw the attention of the entire school. They write and/or recite French poems, they perform French skits, they dance in giant flash mobs to the tune of French pop music, they serve as teachers to their peers at “You-can-learn-French” booths, they help in pastry and cooking demos, they create videos that are shared on our big screens, they do presentations in French in front of the entire school, etc. We also invite to campus members of the Frenchspeaking community for various presentations and class visits during World Language Week.

Please visit our media gallery at: www.tinyurl.com/SLSAATF  / http://www.stlukesct.org/

Pictured: Amber Berry, Beth Yavenditti, Jon Shee, Delphine Nicolas (visiting teacher from France), Evan Downey, Susan Sarrazin

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

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