AATF Exemplary French Program

Centennial High School (CA)
AATF member: Kelly Buffington




Centennial High School is located approximately 50 miles south-east of Los Angeles. It is one of eight high schools in the Corona-Norco Unified School District. It is the only school in the district to offer the International Baccalaureate program of study. With a population of approximately 3,300 students, Centennial is a large and diverse campus with 51% of the students qualifying for free or reduced price lunch. With the majority of the population being Hispanic and with Spanish being the world language of choice, French at Centennial has often taken a back seat to other programs… until now.


When Kelly Buffington and Dahiana Castro took over the French program in 2013, they had lofty goals that they set out to achieve. The first was to increase enrollment in French classes and ensure that students continued their studies into the upper levels. The second was to establish a presence on campus and in the community so that parents and students understand the benefits of taking French. In order to achieve these results, Ms. Buffington and Ms. Castro first decided to transition away from the traditional textbook method and instead focus on using Comprehensible Input (CI) strategies – a move that has proved to be very successful in the classroom. Next, they reached out to the middle school Spanish classes (French is not offered at the middle schools) to give demo lessons to the students and to dispel any myths that “French is hard”. They also presented at several parent nights to inform parents about the benefits of taking French. As a result of their hard work and effort, enrollment in the program has increased across all levels (from 17 students in AP French in 2013 to 34 in 2017) and a new found interest in French has spread across the campus.

Students at Centennial have the opportunity to start French at level 1 and continue until level 4.While matriculating through the program, students participate in a variety of events throughout the year, the most popular and well-known being the annual Mardi Gras celebration. This exciting event features over the top decorations, lively jazz music, and of course delicious Cajun food that the students prepare themselves. Cries of “Jettez-moi quelque chose Madame!” are interspersed with the lively rhythm of a second line playing in the background as students wait outside of their classroom, waiving their hands, waiting to catch one of the many beads thrown in their direction. Students, staff, and administration all enjoy this fun day that celebrates French and Cajun culture. In their fourth year of studies, AP and IB students hold a mock wedding – a highly anticipated event. After studying family life and customs, students plan and put on a real French wedding. A couple is selected, all the required paperwork is filled out, a budget is created, a venue is chosen, and everyone plays a role leading up to the “big day” where the “mayor” reads from the Code Civile before providing the couple with their Livret de famille. Following the ceremony is a murder mystery type reception where students are given detailed roles and have to try to determine who the two wedding crashers are. This annual activity has garnered so much interest that students in the lower levels start planning their own “wedding” years in advance.

In addition to the many exciting activities that occur in French class, students have the opportunity to practice French outside of the classroom as well. Past excursions have included theater trips to see Tristan et Iseut, Le Malade Imaginaire, as well as French singers. Students also have the opportunity to participate in trips abroad with past trips having been to Paris and Normandy, France and Spain, and France, Switzerland, Germany, Austria. The French club, Allons-y!, in conjunction with La Société Honoraire allow students to join in on crêpe making lessons and a cheese tasting as well as other cultural activities.

French at Centennial has come a long way since the program began in 1989. The staff and students are excited about the future of the language on campus and look forward to even bigger and better things to come in the future!


Kelly Buffington teaches levels 2, 3, and AP/IB at Centennial. She holds a M.A. in French and Francophone Studies from California State University, Long Beach, a M.Ed. in Curriculum and Instruction, Literacy Studies from University of Texas, Arlington, and a B.A. in French Studies and Psychology from Smith College. In addition, she holds a Diplôme de français professionnel (mention très bien) from the Chambre de Commerce et d’Industrie de Paris. She has presented at the Practical Pedagogies Conference in Toulouse, France as well as at the Annual Meeting of the French Colonial Society. Along with Ms. Castro, Ms. Buffington regularly attends local, regional, and national conferences to remain au courant with the latest trends in education.

Dahiana Castro is a native of the Dominican Republic and teaches level 1 French as well as level 2 Spanish at Centennial High School. She holds a M.A. in Multicultural Education from California State University, Dominquez Hills and a B.A. in Foreign Languages from the Universidad de Puerto Rico. Ms. Castro holds a Single Subject Teaching Credential in California. She regularly attends local, regional, and national conferences to stay abreast of the latest teaching methodologies. She is known in the Southern California region for her expertise in CI teaching methods and has presented at local conferences.

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

Created: May 29, 2017
Last Update: May 29, 2017