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Photo Credit: Sid Hastings

Academy of the Sacred Heart is bringing back French for its students, in nod to heritage

French studies, special lessons on life of St. Rose Philippine Duchesne on agenda as school nears 200th anniversary

"Bonsoir lune," Madame Sara Gaylor told her students.

"Bonsoir lune," they repeated in unison.

Reading from the popular children's book, "Goodnight Moon," first-graders at the Academy of the Sacred Heart were hearing a new twist on the old tale — but this time, en Français, translated as "Bonsoir Lune."

French is making a comeback at the academy, sponsored by the Society of the Sacred Heart. It's a nod to the school community's French heritage. The Religious of the Sacred Heart who founded the school, including St. Rose Philippine Duchesne, were from Amiens, France. They founded the school nearly 200 years ago in what is now St. Charles, established largely by French settlers.

This is the first year in more than a decade that French is being offered to 4-year-old preschool through fourth-grade students, said principal Marcia Renken. "In the last 10 years, the interest in learning French as a second language was weakening," she said. "We put a pause on French because of where we are located and the influx of Hispanics. Everyone was choosing Spanish as the way to go."

For the past 15 years, the school has offered global studies, which includes lessons on world cultures, current events and language, so the students were still learning about French culture.

"We never lost our passion for the French language," Renken said, "or the connection to our heritage."

This time, French is being introduced to the younger students. Preschoolers through second-graders have class twice a week; third- and fourth-graders rotate between French and Spanish twice a week. When students enter fifth grade, they will choose to concentrate on either French or Spanish for the remainder of their years at the academy.

"We believe that by starting it with our youngest students, it will reintroduce them to the beauty of the language," Renken said. "The goal is to honor our heritage and to speak the language that brought Philippine here."

In another nod to the 200th anniversary of St. Rose Philippine's arrival in St. Charles — some festivities already have begun, but the official anniversary is in 2018 — educators from the Academy of the Sacred Heart and Duchesne High School have developed a seven-month lesson plan focused on the saint's journey from France to the St. Charles riverfront.

The lessons will be offered via the archdiocesan Catholic Education Office beginning in October to archdiocesan elementary and secondary schools and PSR programs. It also will be made available to private Catholic schools, schools in the City of St. Charles and within the Network of Sacred Heart Schools.

Students will retrace the journey of the pioneer saint, said Ann Tollefson, an Academy of the Sacred Heart and Duchesne alum who helped develop the plan. "We wanted them to know who she is — that it was a hard trip and she was met with a lot of adversity and obstacles," Renken said. "The lessons are similar, but need some tweaking to make age appropriate for each grade." 

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