French Heritage Language Program: making French an asset

JPEGe-Toile- Benoît Le Dévédec, you are the Program Coordinator of French Heritage Language. Could you explain the objectives of this program?

Benoît Le Dévédec- The French Heritage Language Program (FHLP) aims at giving underserved students of French-speaking background the opportunity to continue to learn and make the most of their French here in the United States.

Our objective is to encourage new immigrants to keep up their French and maintain strong ties with their cultures of origin, so they can better integrate their new environment.
Nearly all of our students come from West Africa and Haiti and consider the French language to be an important part of who they are.
They are right because French can also be a strong asset for them here in the United States. If you are in High school for example, passing the AP (Advanced Placement) French will give you college credits and so help you save thousands of dollars in higher education.

In the professional world, bilingual proficiency will often make a strong difference when it comes to picking up the right candidate for a job. In short, if you are a French speaker, that can be a big plus for you in the US.

Our program was created in 2005 in partnership with the Cultural Services of the French Embassy in the United States.

It has served about 1,300 students from elementary to high school levels and is today present in New York, Maine, Massachusetts and Florida.
More than 700 students are currently registered in our classes.

  • e-Toile- You came to South Florida on Friday, September 14, 2012 and in order to visit the different locations opened and to meet with local partners. Could you please introduce the sites and projects launched in the region?

Benoît Le Dévédec- It’s been 3 years now since the first French Heritage classes were launched at the Little Haiti Cultural Center in Miami, thanks to our partner, the Haitian Cultural Arts Alliance and its President, Mireille Chancy-Gonzales.

Yet it is right after the Haiti earthquake in January 2010 that French classes really took off in the neighborhood of Little Haiti and more largely in south Florida.
In a context of soaring demand for French classes among Haitian populations, the FHLP and the Haitian Cultural Arts Alliance, with the help of the French Consulate in Miami, decided to establish a French Heritage Language Program - Miami, which was officially inaugurated by the former French Ambassador to the US, Mr. Pierre Vimont, and Miami Mayor Tomas P. Regalado in March 2010.

I would like to thank again the wonderful job done by our former Miami coordinator, Martine Buissart, who played a decisive role in launching the classes and developing all the partnerships we have now on the ground in Florida.
I also want to welcome Kira Tippenhauer, who replaces Martine and now coordinates the program at the Haitian Alliance. Kira will work with Nadia El Asri, who will also provide pedagogical expertise on the ground.  

Today about 100 students, mostly in elementary school, benefit from our classes in Florida.  

French Heritage classes are offered twice a week at the Little Haiti Cultural Center (Wednesday, 4-6pm, Saturday 12.30-3.30pm) as well as at Toussaint Louverture elementary school (Wednesday 2-4pm), where we also get the support of teaching assistants from Easter Seals South Florida and 21st Century.

Other sites include Broward County, with Oriole Elementary School now offering French Heritage classes 4 times a week after school, and Boyd Anderson High School, which also provides French after school hours for heritage speakers.
The Broward County Board of Public Schools has been a strong ally of the FHLP and firmly believes that heritage language classes are a big plus for their students.
French Heritage is also present through the nationally recognized Prime Time Family Reading program, which is now offered several times a year at the Little Haiti Cultural Center.
A new session started on Oct 4th.

  • e-Toile- If a School Director or the Director of a Cultural center is interested in the program, what are the conditions in order to offer the program at their establishement?

Benoît Le Dévédec- One of our top priorities is to encourage local initiatives and help people launch similar programs in the United States, whether we speak of public schools, community centers, in school, after school or weekend classes.

What matters is that it should spring from the bottom up.

Parents’ organizations, teachers and educators play a critical role in this respect.
Once this is identified we can help the project with technical and logistical expertise (communication, organization, curriculum building, assessment) and sometimes financial support (including helping the partner identify new sources of funding).

Finding financial resources is always a challenge but there are today more and more financial incentives to help set up heritage language programs in public schools, with funds like the 21st Century grant, Title 3 and 4 funds, or again the Race to the Top federal grant.

Many companies and institutions are also willing to provide financial or in-kind support for local educational initiatives that specifically promote the social integration of their students.

  • e-Toile- In addition to year-long classes in Miami, last year you offered "Summer Camps." Will you continue to do this?

Benoît Le Dévédec- Summer camps have always been a popular tradition for the French Heritage Language Program.

This is also true of the FHLP-Miami, which organizes every year up to 7 weeks of French summer programs at the Little Haiti Cultural Center and Toussaint Louverture Elementary School.

Summer camps offer real opportunities for total immersion in the language while also being very recreational.

Through hands-on artistic activities, singing and dancing, children make the most of their cultural heritage while practicing the language.

The end-of-camp events are always great moments of social cohesion with children, families and educators alike. We want to pursue this tradition and will do our best to ensure the continuity of these summer programs over the coming years.
We currently try to find new sources of funding to support these camps and, as is the case for our year-round classes, your contributions are always welcome!

You can get more information about the French heritage Language Program by visiting their website at:

For the FHLP-Miami, please contact Kira Tippenhauer at
and read more about them on the Haitian Cultural Arts Alliance’s website at: 

Article published Oct. 18, 2012.

Last modified on 18/10/2012

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