Parents of children ages 16 months to 5 years will soon have an Edina location for French-language immersion preschool. The French Academy of Minnesota, a private institution located in St. Louis Park and offering comprehensive French language-, curriculum- and culture-based education for toddlers through grade five, will open a second location in Edina in spring 2016.
The program in Edina will differ from St. Louis Park, says Veronique Liebmann, director, in that it will only provide toddler and pre-kindergarten programs. “If your family has long-term plans to send a child through fifth grade at the French Academy of Minnesota, the better idea is to enroll in St. Louis Park,” says Liebmann. But if you’re considering enrollment in Edina’s public school French-language immersion program at Normandale Elementary, the toddler/preschool French Academy program in Edina may well help prepare your child for an easier kindergarten year.
“Our programs for toddlers and preschoolers include learning French, of course,” says Dorothee Henry, teacher and education director. The earliest possible exposure to a foreign language is ideal, she says, and practice with another language, especially before entering an immersion kindergarten, will likely reduce a child’s stress in such a program. But French Academy toddler and preschool education “is also heavily geared toward social and emotional growth,” says Henry. “My classroom is about the pleasure of learning. About, for example, not bringing your own toys to school but experiencing the frustrations and rewards of sharing.” Instead of worksheets and tests you’ll find, in Henry’s capable hands, circle time, singing, arts and crafts, gym, library sessions and experiences with simple math and science concepts.
When asked her opinion of the primary difference in American-style vs. French schooling, Liebmann is succinct: “It’s about the rigor,” she says. “We set up high expectations and support each child in meeting those expectations.” In France, she explains, public school starts at age 2 ½. The French Academy school day begins at 9 a.m. and ends at 3:30 p.m. Their day includes a 45-minute lunch where conversation, manners and etiquette are emphasized. All students wear uniforms and receive the same supplies. Classes are very small. All French instructors are native French speakers.
Treva Vogt, parent of a 6-year-old who was in the St. Louis Park program last year and now attends Normandale, says adaptations to the strictly French curriculum occur. “Whereas before, only French was spoken in classrooms with very young children, now there is always a full-time English-speaking teacher present. They will speak in English if the inability to communicate is thought to be stifling the child’s social and emotional development.” Vogt plans to enroll her two younger boys in the new Edina preschool program. “I think it’s brilliant to open this new school to prepare kids for Normandale,” she says.
Despite the rigor associated with French-style education, Henry sees strengths in some aspects of American education: the way students are asked their opinions, for example, and the way they are praised for their efforts. Henry is particularly fond of the kindness and openness of Minnesotans, and about “how in America I can have a leadership position at this school and no one tells me this is not possible because I don’t have enough wrinkles yet.”
Visit the French Academy of Minnesota website, thefrenchacademy.org, for news about upcoming open houses. In the meantime, parents are welcome by appt. to visit all classrooms at the St. Louis Park location. Call or email Veronique Liebmann 952.944.1930; [email protected] for specific arrangements.