Sunset Elementary School, 293 students learn French

For 27 years, as specified in this interview with the Principal of Sunset Elementary School, the French program has been issued within the framework of the "International Studies Program" and nearly 300 students attend history, geography and even mathematics lessons in French.
In terms of "International Studies," Sunset, located in the Greater Miami area, has developed the model on which other schools have structured their programs after.
This elementary school, whose CP to CM2 (first through fifth grade) classes are approved by the Minister of National Education, is the pride of the local American public school system.
In this interview, Dr. Marlene Leyte-Vidal, Principal of the school, explains her commitment to teaching foreign languages, which she believes is a road to success and tolerance!


- e-Toile : Dr. Marlene Leyte-Vidal , you are the Principal of Sunset Elementary School, that has been awarded in 2012, the National Winner Elementary School of Excellence and several others awards, putting your establishment at the top of all Magnet schools in the US. Well recognized foreign language programs are offered at Sunset Elementary School. Could you introduce yourself to our readers and talk about your inclination towards foreign languages?

  • Dr. Marlene Leyte-Vidal : For the past 20 years of my career I have been very fortunate to be involved with specialized programs within Miami-Dade County Public Schools, primarily with magnet schools specializing in international and/or bilingual education. Interestingly, I first became involved with magnet programs in 1993 when I joined the Sunset Family as a teacher who would eventually also serve as a PTA Vice-President and parent at the school. All of these experiences have uniquely prepared me for the position of principal I now hold since 2009 at Sunset Elementary, a premier International Studies Program serving 1100 students and their families, for over 27 years.

As a result of my experiences in the area of program development and implementation of the foreign language intensive, International Studies Program, as well as International Baccalaureate Programs, I believe I bring a unique perspective to the school regarding the importance of creating a culture that embraces the school’s theme and values the families who are committed to its success. Working collaboratively with all stakeholders to align available resources and our collective efforts, helps ensure the sustained integrity of the International Studies Magnet Program at Sunset Elementary.

As an American born daughter of immigrants, becoming bilingual was not only a necessity for me but a matter of survival for my parents who depended on me to assimilate and prosper in a foreign land with a language they did not know.

As a child, I was fascinated by the great power of language and the varied customs and cultures I encountered. To this day, I am drawn to the accents I hear and without hesitation ask, “Where are you from?” I believe that an emphasis on foreign language studies helps students expand their view of the world, develop their intellect to meet future, real-world demands, increase their learning potential and develop tolerance and understanding of other cultures.

- e-Toile: Along with the German and Spanish Language Programs that have their own specifities, what makes the French Program Different?

  • Dr. Marlene Leyte-Vidal: Although each program may have its specific characteristics, all three are greatly aligned in terms of purpose, academic requirements, and parental support and program accessibility criteria. All three are rich in academic offerings. They reflect Miami-Dade County Public School’s commitment and support of highly specialized choice programs and the importance of language acquisition and international studies in an ever increasingly, interdependent world.

The French Program at Sunset, however, does afford eligible students a unique opportunity to become immersed in the study of one of the world’s greatest languages. From a very young age, non-French nationals study alongside their French national peers, in an American school, a foreign language that is central to international diplomacy and worldwide communication.

- e-Toile: Could you "introduce" your school’s students and give us data about the ones attending the French Program?

  • Dr. Marlene Leyte-Vidal: Sunset Elementary students are a diverse and dynamic group of children. They come to the school from across the district to access the school’s International Studies Magnet Program. They are not only good students but also dedicated and kind. They are eager to succeed and excel, often traveling great distances to access the academically rigorous and foreign language intensive offerings at the school.

As students, they have an extended day of school from first grade on, they participate in school wide service project efforts, they are regularly asked to think about their choices, they are often self-motivated and participate in numerous extra-curricular activities on site and in the broader community. They are always doing and learning….it’s quite amazing to see them in action!
Of our 293 students in the French program, 114 are French nationals.

Students in the French Program participate and do very well in authentic French National Evaluations administered in Grades 2 and 5. They also perform at high levels of proficiency on state and local assessments commensurate with their peers in the Spanish and German Programs.

- e-Toile: What type of support does the organization FIPA, which is the Parent’s Association of the Coordinated French Programs in the Greater Area of Miami, bring to the school, the teachers and the students?

  • Dr. Marlene Leyte-Vidal: FIPA provides a variety of resources to the school and its families. It is an active and energetic organization, whose primary goal is to support and enhance the French language section of the International Studies Program at Sunset Elementary and its other affiliated schools.

It provides instructional support and material resources to ensure that the integrity and high academic level of the program is sustained. FIPA is a great partner to the school, helping to deliver a world-class education to the students in the French Program at Sunset Elementary! Their focus and dedication to the long-term success of the program is greatly appreciated and to be commended.


Sunset Elementary School

5120 Sunset Drive

Miami Florida 33143

For more information please visit:

Or contact:

Via email:

  • For registration:

Cathy Ruxton,

Elizabeth Garcia,

  • For the International Programs:

Tere Pujol Burns,

Or call:


For more information about FIPA, please visit:

P.O. Box 430845,
Miami, Florida, 33243-0845

Contact any board member at:

Article published on January 31, 2013.

Last modified on 13/02/2013

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