The beginning of the 2019-2020 school year marked the comeback of the French4Kids Program. In this program, Whitman students work to develop and present French lessons to elementary and middle school students in the Walla Walla school district.
Whitman offers several different Language4Kids Programs, including German4Kids and Latin4Kids.
Due to the COVID-19 outbreak causing school closures and pushing Whitman’s classes online, the program has inevitably ended for the school year. French4Kids is set to restart again next semester.
In the fall, French4Kids was taught at Garrison Middle School. Earlier this spring semester, it was taught at Pioneer Middle School. The class sessions last for approximately 45 minutes to one hour after school once a week. They take place on Wednesdays in the time between early release and the beginning of sports practices.
Because kids in the program are not offered language classes during school hours, French4Kids acts as an introduction to the language with the intention that students will go on to take French in high school.
This past spring semester, the program was run by two student volunteers, a paid student intern who acted as the French language assistant and the faculty adviser, Associate Professor of French Language and Literature Jack Iverson. During the fall semester, the faculty adviser was Sarah Hurlburt, who is currently on sabbatical and is also an associate professor of French language and literature at Whitman.
The program was initially founded by Hurlburt in 2013. It was then revived by Hurlburt and Assistant Professor of Classics & Environmental Humanities Kate Shea in 2019.
In order to be operational, the French4Kids program is dependent upon the interest and work of Whitman students. In 2019, just like in 2013, a group of rising French majors vocalized their interest in teaching.
French4Kids provides experience in this potential teaching career path. Hurlburt spoke about the base that the Language4Kids programs can provide for some Whitman students’ future.
“French4Kids and Latin4Kids provide these students with a first taste of the challenges and rewards of teaching,” Hurlburt said. “It also gives them an extremely basic tool kit – how to build an activity step by step, how to develop effective transitions between one activity and another, what it feels like to be the teacher instead of the student.”
Hurlburt provided concrete evidence about the success of the initial group in the field of teaching in 2013.
“At least three of the French4Kids interns from that time are now teachers, and one of those is a French teacher,” Hurlburt said.
This past semester, the student intern for French4Kids was sophomore Tillman Amstutz. Amstutz intends on declaring a French major and pursuing teaching. He has taken French classes every year since seventh grade and claims that his in-class experiences have impacted his teaching.
“Even stuff we do in classes here at Whitman we’ve been able to apply to middle schoolers in terms of activities and generally just ways of learning a language,” Amstutz said.
The format for the French4Kids classes is flexible because the student teachers do not follow the structure of a textbook. Amstutz described the flexibility teachers have and how they base lessons on student interests.
“We try to tailor what we do around what the kids want,” Amstutz said. “We take them into consideration, we ask them what they want to learn, if there’s anything culturally that interests them; and in general, our lessons are structured around things that they want to do more so than us just coming at them with worksheets or repeating stuff.”
The faculty adviser is typically present to work with the student intern and other volunteers, helping them prepare lessons and giving general advice. However, the faculty member does not go into the classrooms with the students.
Hurlburt emphasized the importance of the student teachers stepping out of their roles as students and gaining a sense of real-world experience in teaching.
“What we discovered is that as soon as I step into the classroom, the French4Kids teachers turn back into my students,” Hurlburt said. “One of the points of the experience is for them to have the experience of being in charge, working through the challenges. My presence interfered with that.”
Andréa Simonnet has been the French language assistant at Whitman for two years. Simonnet stressed the idea that the student teachers should work without too much professional interference.
“Although I was in charge of reviewing all the work and I have more experience than the students in terms of teaching, the program is really meant for the students to get to learn and experience teaching,” Simonnet said. “I am trying to take a step back as much as possible, especially during the sessions at the school.”
Every member of a French4Kids team serves as a lesson leader at least twice. Each class session has two lesson leaders that work together to develop a lesson plan, prepare materials and train the rest of the group. Reflection is also an important aspect for the student teachers. Lesson leaders not only document their lesson plans, but they reflect on the feedback received from their classes. In addition, at the end of the semester, the French4Kids team meets for a reflective discussion, and the student teachers write a paper on the experience.
Simonnet discussed the impact of the program on Whitman students and the kids involved.
“I personally think that this program is such a great opportunity for everyone involved to be in touch with a different group of students,” Simonnet said. “I think that children, as unpredictable and full of energy as they can be, are really fun to teach and very endearing.”