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Acadian Odyssey: Loving the Heritage

About This Daily Classroom Special
Acadian Odyssey, created by Ron Dupuis, explores the culture of his ancestors by visiting "real" Cajun towns, presenting folk stories and language, describing the unique Cajun way of cooking, and allowing web site visitors to experience numerous Cajun-related festivals in Southern Louisiana. Ron is a teacher at Scotlandville Magnet High School in Baton Rouge (LA) and former Teachers Network web mentor. 

Introduction

Fond memories of childhood return as we rummage through photo albums that our parents lovingly assembled. These pictures remind us of all the special moments that have made us who we are. We recall the sweet sounds of our grandparents calling us to come in from the summer heat to enjoy an ice-cream treat made the old-fashioned way with ice, salt and hand-cranking. Were an accidental fire to destroy our albums, the memories would remain; but we would be sad because those pictures were symbols of our very own makeup.

Cajun French in Louisiana

So too is the language that we speak. It holds precious memories that the very accents of the words carry. The oft-repeated expressions of our grandparents stir special feelings of the wonderful days of our carefree childhood. That is why we feel so deeply about the language that we have grown up with. It is a small wonder that French speakers still exist in Louisiana. Every effort was made to bring about forced assimilation of the Cajuns into Anglo-American culture. Cajuns were made to feel as though they were second-rate citizens in Louisiana. Parents were so ashamed of their language that they gave their children the impression that the Cajun French language and culture were not to be emulated. Strong economic incentives encouraged Cajuns to abandon their language so they could find good employment.

Special Thanks

Thanks to the Lafayette Parish School Board and the Educational Technology Review Center of USL for their generous assistance in the development of this report.

French Immersion Today

That is all changing. Now there is pride in being and speaking Cajun. Now we see signs in Acadiana that say, "on est fier de parler français." Now there is French immersion.

French immersion is growing out of three centuries of Louisiana French heritage. It is an attempt to ensure survival of the language after nearly three decades of public elementary school instruction in French as a second language.

French immersion is not confined within the school walls. In Acadiana, resources abound for extending learning of the Louisiana French language and culture into the community. Thanks to an enlightened new generation of parents, educators and community leaders, the French Immersion Program has become the jewel in the state's crown of second language learning. Given the presence of the French language and culture throughout Louisiana's past, French immersion presents an exciting "nostalgia for the future," where students help build a society better equipped to meet the impact of change.

The concept of immersion instruction is based on a fundamental premise that children learn a second language in the same way that they learn their first language-in natural situations where they are socially motivated to communicate. French immersion in Louisiana schools is one of the most exciting and innovative educational developments to surface in the last decade.

Immersion in the Schools

This exciting program is being developed in the schools of Lafayette Parish in Louisiana. Amanda LaFleur has played a very important role in promoting the immersion program and in coordinating its activities. Older members of the Cajun community are once again rejoicing that they can speak French with their grandchildren.

So, how does it work? Students sign up to go to the several immersion schools that the school system offers. They range from elementary school to middle school. The students have their classes for sixty percent of the day in French. These classes are usually math, science, social studies and art. The language arts classes are taught in English. The students become quite adept at understanding French at the early stages and become capable of expressing themselves rather well in the later years of their elementary schooling. These "immersion" schools are being set up throughout southern Louisiana. Along with Lafayette Parish, you can also find immersion programs in Calcasieu Parish, Assumption Parish and East Baton Rouge Parish. In fact, Assumption Parish has just set up its very first high school immersion program.

For further information about French immersion, write to Amanda LaFleur and learn how the Lafayette Parish Schools are playing a key role in restoring the language and culture of the Cajuns.

 

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