By Aaron Barksdale-Burns & Catherine Rush Thompson
During this time of uncertainty, many parents ask: Can a child living in Kansas City get a free high quality total immersion French education?
The answer is a resounding “yes.”
Académie Lafayette, a charter school and model full-immersion program in Kansas City, Missouri, offers French instruction starting in kindergarten. Children in grades kindergarten through 8th grade receive the “gift of a second language, the joy of diverse friendships, and the reward of an excellent education from one of the region’s top-ranked schools…our focus is on helping each student become a critical thinker, engaged learner, and global citizen.”
Founded in 1999, Académie Lafayette has successfully served hundreds of students within the boundaries of the Kansas City Missouri Public School District. Sponsored by the University of Central Missouri, the school is funded by public monies, but relies on philanthropic support as well. As part of its strategic plan, Académie Lafayette serves a diverse student population and has deliberately increased its efforts to enroll more minority students and students who qualify for free and reduced lunch. Current enrollment is approximately 1,150 students based at three campuses: (1) the Cherry Campus (for grades kindergarten through 4th grade); (2) the Oak Campus (for kindergarten through 5th grade), and the (3) Armour Campus (for grades 6 through 9).
How does it work?
According to the French American School of Denver, “Immersion education is a research-based educational methodology that has been shown to improve academic achievement, reduce the achievement gap between white and minority students, boost economic potential and deliver lifelong cognitive benefits.” Studies have shown that bilingual individuals “consistently outperform their monolingual counterparts on tasks involving executive control.”
In the immersion program at Académie Lafayette, the French language is used as the vehicle for acquiring knowledge from different subject areas. Content and language teaching are integrated so that the second language is perceived by the learner as a tool for information-gathering. Students toggle between the two languages and, ultimately, become willing and able to work outside their comfort zone and expand their knowledge.
As a result of this learning method, students have higher academic achievement, outperforming their peers in suburban school districts in the field of English language arts. Académie Lafayette has consistently outperformed the state average, including scoring 24 percentage points higher in proficiency than the state average in English language arts and math combined. “I am exceptionally proud that our students of color and our students who are on free-and-reduced lunch are excelling in state testing, scoring 51% proficient or above in both English language arts and math, which is 19 points ahead of the state of Missouri,” states M. Elimane Mbengue, the Head of School at Académie Lafayette.
“Our teachers come from all over the world which gives us the opportunity to share best educational practices and develop our students’ adaptability to different teaching styles and different French accents. Our foreign teachers have very high expectations for every learner, which we know produces better academic outcomes,” reports Mbengue. This is part of what makes the French Immersion program work as an educational model. Students at Académie Lafayette are focused and independent. They learn to do their homework and projects with less parental involvement.
Has Académie Lafayette successfully adapted to the pandemic?
“Each challenge, no matter how difficult, is met with a spirit of determination and anticipation”, states the Head of School at Académie Lafayette, M. Elimane Mbengue. The gradual process of leveraging technology to enhance the classroom experience has been turned on its head with the urgent need for distance learning. The Covid-19 pandemic has revolutionized the way all students learn and its impact is notable. Due to the increased viral threat currently at hand, the program’s adaptations have been quickened and the e-learning has both salvaged and transformed the elementary school experience at AL. Now, in addition to a world-class education, students are guaranteed a 21st century education.
The school made good choices when they immediately went to online learning in April 2020 and did not stray from their nearly year-round schedule, continuing with their successful summer sessions. Some parents have credited this successful transition to strong, internationally minded leadership. Families with children in grades kindergarten through 3rd grade were offered one of two tracks at the beginning of the Fall semester: (1) “virtual” instruction involving exclusively online education or (2) “hybrid” instruction with a mix of both online instruction complemented by small group instruction in the school building. This second option involving school-based learning has been short-lived due to health realities.
Fortunately, in the past nine months, even first graders at Académie Lafayette have already developed many of the tools required of them in these extraordinary times. Students in kindergarten through second grade continue to develop essential (but personalized) math and English skills with an online platform (IXL Analytics real-time learning), while receiving both recorded and face-to-face instruction from teachers online. Now familiar with navigating web-browsers, hyperlinks and the Google Meet user experience, the process has required technical know-how and independent learning for very young children. The school has been incredibly supportive during the process despite the many challenges. As a result of this support and family involvement, distance learning has been an overall success.
How can I apply for my child’s admission to this free program?
According to the school website: “Because there are typically more applicants than places available, a lottery system is used to generate a random list for the incoming kindergarten class, admitting 198 new students per year.” Because the program is total immersion, it does not accept students after kindergarten unless the student is already fluent in French. The system is expanding as it has just opened Académie Lafayette International High School, which is a candidate school for the International Baccalaureate Diploma Program. Those interested in details of admission and application can refer to: http://academielafayette.org/admissions/, as application deadlines are approaching.
What do parents say about their children’s education from Académie Lafayette?
“Our children graduated from Académie Lafayette with more than a world-class education. They have a global awareness that most kids don’t [have]. They have learned to be resourceful, committed, and focused in their studies. They remain connected with their former AL classmates and teachers. With their help, our kids have gained a love of learning that we are sure will last a lifetime. As a parent, what more could you possibly want?”— Angela and Ron Michka, Alumni Parents:
About the Authors
Aaron Barksdale-Burns is a blogger, freelance linguist and musician who is active in an international exchange with the Goethe-Institut of Germany, through the Goethe Pop Up Kansas City. Aaron studied and performed in Chicago and in Europe. He lived in Germany, Austria and the Netherlands before settling in Kansas City. He is fascinated by the diverse perspectives offered through authentic language and culture. His nephew and niece currently attend Académie Lafayette.
Catherine Rush Thompson, PhD, MS, PT, has an interdisciplinary PhD in psychology, education & neuroscience and served on the Desegregation Monitoring Committee for the Kansas City School District that oversaw Kansas City's first magnet schools, including the first French immersion education program offered in Kansas City. Both of her sons graduated from École Longan, have earned graduate degrees, and have used their French skills to serve others. Catherine's French heritage and her love of history have led to her current role as Blog Editor for the KC MOLIÈRE: 400 IN 2022 website.
Académie Lafayette website: https://academielafayette.org/
Bialystok E. Reshaping the Mind: The Benefits of Bilingualism: https://content.apa.org/record/2011-20230-001
Schoolsmart Kansas City website: https://www.schoolsmartkc.org/
Manning. Study: Portland Immersion Students Become Better Readers, English Speakers: https://www.opb.org/news/article/study-portland-immersion-students-become-better-readers-english-speakers/
Parent testimonials: https://academielafayette.org/admissions/testimonials/
The Advantages of an Immersion Education – Source: https://www.fasdenver.org/immersion/
By Chantal Roberts
I’ve mentioned before my love of all things French, and my husband’s desire to spread out and learn about our newly adopted state(s) of Kansas and Missouri. This time our adventure took us to St. Joseph, Missouri, to uncover Edmond Eckel, a French-born architect.
Edmond Jacques Eckel
Born in 1845 in Strasbourg, Edmond Jacques Eckel studied architecture at L’École des Beaux Arts in Paris. He came to the United States and was on his way to Kansas City in 1869, when he was waylaid in St. Joseph due to a washed-out bridge. He liked the community so much that he decided to say there, starting his architecture firm which built the Wyeth-Tootle Mansion at 1100 Charles Street.
This 43-room, Gothic-style mansion with a view of the St. Joseph River and the Missouri River was commissioned by the Wyeths to resemble the castles they had seen on the Rhine River. Despite the German influences, some of the rooms on the first floor were French inspired, such as the Reception Room of black and gold woodwork and the Louis the XVI Sitting Room with angels painted on the ceiling.
It is estimated that his firms designed approximately 75% of the public and private buildings in St. Joseph and in many parts of the Midwest, including the St. Joseph City Hall.
One Frenchman you may not know is Octave Chanute, the Paris-born man who managed to tame the Missouri River with a bridge in 1867. The Hannibal Bridge was the first bridge to cross the Missouri River. In fact, it was once thought it would be harder to bridge the Missouri River than the Mighty Mississippi due to the Missouri’s rapid and dangerous currents.
The bridge changed Kansas City from a small river town to a major rail hub in a short time. It connected 7 railroads, bypassed the Kansas River, which cut Lawrence, Kansas, and St. Joseph, Missouri, out of the transportation loop. The swing truss near the middle of the Hannibal Bridge opened to allow steamboats to pass through. Chanute also introduced Fairbanks scales to the Kansas City railroads, allowing large loads of cargo to be weighed at once.
However, this isn’t the reason most people know Chanute—it’s for his expertise in aviation, which he didn’t undertake until he retired from engineering. Chanute literally tapped into his bridge-building knowledge and used it to further flight. His bridge trusses changed into wing stabilizers on early biplanes which he built when he was 64. In fact, it was the Octave Chanute that the Wright brothers’ Kitty Hawk was modeled on.
William B. Strang, Jr., the founder of Overland Park, Kansas, had a fascination with flight. He arranged the first flight in Kansas and built the first airfield in Overland Park. The Wright Brothers never came to Johnson County, but their machines, influenced by a French engineer who once lived in Kansas City, did.
Jackson, D. W. Kansas City Chronicles. An Up-To-Date History.
The St. Joseph Historical Society.
My own tour of everything.
Soldan Els Oberg, S. and the Overland Park Historical Society. Images of America Overland Park.
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