In at least one respect, walking the halls of Trip Elementary in Grayson is like visiting a school in Paris. While students are tackling complex math and science concepts, they’re also asking questions, following instructions and working together entirely in French.
At this dual-immersion language school, half the day is devoted to traditional lessons conducted in French. Students are not only challenged to master core concepts, but to do so while navigating the intricacies of pronunciation and grammar in a second language. Trip students are doing it so well, the French government recently took note.
In late March, the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs granted its official international accreditation to Trip’s bilingual program. That put the Gwinnett school in the company of just 46 others in the U.S. with the distinction. And it is only one of two schools in Georgia with the “Label FrancEducation” designation; the second is Evansdale Elementary in Doraville.
“The fact that Trip Elementary earned the designation says a lot about the quality of its program and the instruction students are receiving,” said Jon Valentine, Gwinnett County Pubic Schools’ director of Foreign Language.
The honor was presented to the school by Anne-Lise Gallay, the deputy cultural attaché at the French consulate in Atlanta. “Trip is a model for other dual-language immersion schools, and that was a main reason we wanted to reward them,” she said.
Gallay noted that the award is based on several factors, including the high quality of teaching, instruction from a native French speaker, the number of hours students spend taking courses conducted in French and the overall strength of the program.
“And this program is quite new,” she said. “It was created in 2013, but it’s been very strong.”
Teacher and native French speaker Binta Bin-Wahad has been part of Trip’s dual-immersion for four years when she began teaching first grade. She currently teaches 39 third-graders.
“The first group that started with me is now in fourth grade, the highest level we have so far,” she said. “It’s amazing how good their French is.”
The West African native grew up in Guinea and attended high school in Paris where her father worked at the embassy. She earned a master’s in elementary education from Grand Canyon University in Arizona. She lives with her husband, also from Guinea, their two children and her mother.
“So we speak French at home,” she said. “And it’s actually easier for me to teach in French than English. I like being able to teach students in way so they really learn the language and go beyond just being able to speak it.”
Bin-Wahad has also noticed another phenomenon in the program.
“This year, in the first-grade level, we don’t have any students with French backgrounds,” she said. “I wonder sometimes how they can grasp it and use it if they’re not speaking French at home. But many parents are very happy to have their children learn another language.”
For more information on the dual-immersion program at Trip, visit tripelementary.com. Details about Label FrancEducation is online at labelfranceducation.fr.