By Alexandra Beda, Special To The Standard
Two years ago, the head of the French department, Madame O’Connell, decided to initiate an exchange program between Woodstock students and high school and middle school students from Saint-Gaudens, France. In the spring of 2010, a group of about 20 students flew to Woodstock to spend two weeks with WUHS high school and middle school students. The following fall, the WUHS students visited Saint-Gaudens, staying with the families of the students they had hosted the year before.
“In the small amount of time I was there, I already noticed improvement in my French, and felt immersed in the French culture,” says French 3 student Kathleen Sheppard.
The exchange was such a hit, not only in Woodstock, but in Saint-Gaudens, that the following year the French Department began working to create a new program in which qualified Woodstock Union High School students were given the opportunity to apply for a semester long study abroad program. This program takes place in Saint-Gaudens, and accepted students would take classes at the city’s public high school, the Lycée de Bagatelle. The following fall, I was the first Woodstock student to participate in the program, leaving in the fall and returning in late January of my junior year.
After a successful first-attempt, the program was up and running. This past year, juniors Asa Waterworth and Austin Cawley-Edwards spent the fall semester in Saint-Gaudens to returning at the beginning of the spring semester at WUHS. “I really believe that immersion is the best way to reinforce language skills,” comments Edwards about his experience. As part of the program, this quarter Saint-Gaudens students Carla Roux, Paulina Albaladejo, and Clement Laboulfie are enrolled as students at WUHS.
Next year, the program will have room for even more applicants, and according to O’Connell, there are already six qualified candidates who have applied for a spot in the program. While the six-month study abroad program is exclusively available to high school students who have completed a minimum of three years of French, the two week immersion program is still available to any middle school and high school French students. “I think programs like this help all of us understand how other people in different countries live and allow us to experience France in a way that is much more eye opening than just staying at a hotel,” says Sheppard.
Sheppard, who is the secretary of the French club, explains that this year, the club has been fundraising to help Jean de Dieu, a Congolese native with ties to our area, gather the materials needed to help build schools and fund education in the Congo. The club also helps raise money for a scholarship that is awarded to a senior member of the French club who plans on pursuing French at the undergraduate level. “My job is really just about making French and the French culture more interesting to the students who take French class at Woodstock,” says Sheppard.
Not only is the French Department busy with the new exchange programs as well as fundraising for the French club, this year, Business French students are working towards starting an international business between Woodstock and Saint-Gaudens. Woodstock students will sell Vermont maple syrup in Saint-Gaudens, while French students will sell honey specialties in Woodstock. The location of these sales is soon to be announced.