AATF Exemplary French Program with Honors

Wakefield High School, Arlington VA
AATF Member: Kathryn Wheelock

Since 2009, Wakefield High School’s French program has been growing in numbers, in terms of activities, professional development for teachers, and student successes. Located just outside of Washington DC in Arlington, VA, a very diverse student population has benefitted from program offerings in French. Despite language offerings in more than 8 other languages, a robust French program continues to grow with two dedicated French teachers.

The majority of our students begin their French studies in 7th grade at one of our feeder middle schools: Kenmore (Arts & Communications Technology School), Jefferson (IB MYP), Gunston (Spanish Immersion focus). As a result, our largest enrollment exists at the French 3 level. Unlike other high schools who have been forced to move their level 1 and 2 classes on-line due to low enrollment, we have maintained several sections of the beginner classes at the high school level as well. Enrollment in AP French Language and Culture at our school is also boosted by fluent speakers of French who move into our school zone. Recently, we have welcomed heritage learners into our upper-level classes from Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Senegal, Burkina Faso, Chad, and France. With administrative support, we were able to offer a post-AP class called Advanced Studies of French and hope to offer it as dual-enrollment with a local college in the future. Because our studies of French begin early for many students, we will also offer a French 5 class (pre-AP) to try to increase student success in AP, to improve retention, and better prepare students to continue with French at the university level. Since 2009 we have increased our class periods in French, and hope to continue to grow more over the next few years.

Professional development has helped us create more engaging, contemporary lessons for our students. With our close proximity to Washington, DC, we are able to profit from professional development offerings through the Embassy of France (Art in the FLE classroom, Storytelling in French). World Language Department Chair and French teacher Katy Wheelock studied at CAVILAM, in Vichy, France in July 2014 through a bourse (Stage Pédagogique de Courte Durée— SPCD) from the French government. She has also attended training on Modified Oral Proficiency Interviews (MOPI) through the Department of Education of Virginia and has attended professional conferences with ACTFL, AATF, MaFLA, and FLAVA. Last year she presented at FLAVA (with a presentation about the SPCD in Vichy, France) and this fall she will offer a presentation called “Invigorating your French Program with AATF.”

This is our first year with an active chapter of the Société Honoraire de Français (SHF). We inducted 24 students into our chapter with a formal evening event attended by parents and the Education Affairs Program Officer from the Embassy of France. Many students participated in our first Grand Concours as well, winning medals at the gold and silver level, with many bronze and honorable mentions. A French 4 student was accepted to Virginia’s Summer Governors’ Academy program for French; he was our first acceptance from the World Languages program in at least the last six school years. A freshman won an award for an essay for the SHF Creative Writing Contest. Two French 4 students wrote original poetry, which they then read aloud earlier during World Languages Week at a countywide public event. We are proud of our students who have been willing to take risks and push themselves to enter a variety of contests and events.

To bring the world into our classroom, we have worked over the last several years to have connections with various “experts” locally and from around the world. We maintain a relationship with our Sister City Committee (Arlington-Reims) for exchange opportunities to host or to travel to France. The French Club prepared welcome posters for the students and an American-style breakfast sponsored by the host parents made for a warm welcome to their day at Wakefield. The entire exchange was a great experience for both the French and American students. Many tears were shed as students said au revoir, but modern technology is keeping them in frequent contact with each other since their return to France.

Guest speakers such as the Director of the Canada Institute, Wilson Center and a Senegalese reporter with the Voice of America residing in Arlington have added to the typical classroom instruction. We maintained a Skype relationship with a Peace Corps volunteer in Senegal to talk about her daily life, usage of French etc. Teacher Katy Wheelock also maintains contact with a teacher from Charleville-Mézières in the Reims region through a Memorandum of Understanding between the Virginia Department of Education and the Académie de Reims. Students share videos: personal introductions, tours of the school, in both French and English. Teachers share ideas and authentic resources to improve teaching techniques. A new idea to link Wakefield’s AP students with the French students TPE course is under consideration for the fall 2015.

Our World Languages Department organizes a biannual Declamation Contest, in late winter. All of our French students memorize poems in class, and the best three for each level are selected to present in a juried contest in front of nearly 600 students. Miss Virginia International, Kristyn Admire, a linguist herself, came to encourage students to continue their foreign language studies in the future at our last contest.

In conjunction with Wakefield’s annual Heritage Week celebrations, our students create displays from their francophone homes. One year, students shed their American clothes in favor of brightly colored pagnes, boubous, foulards, and chemises made from Sotiba fabric, and tye-died damask cloth, commonly-worn in Senegal, where Katy Wheelock spent a year as a Rotary Ambassdor. After putting on their Senegalese clothes, students pushed the desks to the side, washed their hands, sat on the floor, and enjoyed a meal of poulet yassa, eaten with their hands around the bowl, as is often done in Senegal. All students enjoyed the food, and it helped to bring to life their current studies on Racines et Ethnies. During the meal, students listened to African music, watched videos of Senegalese dances, and even tried some out, too!

Their experiences in class have led our French Honor Society to gain interest in establishing a service project or fundraiser in 2015-2016 to assist children in need in Senegal. We are very proud of our program but are looking forward to new challenges ahead. Ideally, we will do outreach to the middle schools to encourage participation in high school French, and we will maintain relationships with our graduates to promote French studies at the university level as well. Maintaining or growing our program while striving for increased proficiency of our students will lead us in our future endeavors.


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

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