Uptown Public School Series: Lycée Français de la Nouvelle-Orléans

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From the Classroom to the Zoo:
Why Learning at Lycée is Right for our Child

By Leslie Compton Johnson and Bruce Johnson 

In the eighth installment of our ten-essay series by parents of students at public schools Uptown, Leslie and Bruce write about their son’s experience at Lycée Français de la Nouvelle-Orléans. Like New Orleans as a whole, Uptown has many public school options for families—from college preparatory schools, to three different language immersion programs, to a Montessori program, to a technology career pathway school. In this series, we hear from families themselves on why their child’s school is right for them.

Our son Shannon is in the third grade at Lycée Français de la Nouvelle-Orléans. He enjoys his school, but this year, he’s spent a full month away from campus: he and his class were at the zoo.

Every grade at Lycée takes part in the school’s “Thinking Outside the Classroom” initiative, in which children spend a portion of their year (approximately a week to a month) learning outside their classroom. In kindergarten, it’s in the stables at Audubon Park. In first grade, they’re at the Audubon Nature Institute’s zoo. In second grade, they’re at the Ogden Museum. In fourth grade, they spend time at the New Orleans Jazz Museum and explore historic sites in the French Quarter. In fifth grade, they’re at the aquarium, and they even get the chance to snorkel in the fish tanks (with their parents’ permission)!

The way Lycée builds this type of real-world experience into the regular curriculum is an excellent fit for our curious child. From animal classification to geology of the oceans, from chemistry of the water to local, national and international history, from environmental studies, sustainability and conservation to the exploration of self through art, Lycée’s students are involved in site-based, authentic and hands-on learning experiences that forever shape who they are.

Shannon at the zoo, with his presentation about pelicans

There at the zoo, Shannon and his classmates created poster boards about wildlife and Louisiana animals. They wrote the boards themselves and created all the pictures and information. They got to present them to the public at the zoo (service learning is a big part of what they do). The students were lined up along the entrance in little groups. When we got there, our hearts were busting out of our shirts. We said to ourselves, “Look at our son!”

You could stop at any group on your way in, and they would give you a little presentation. They had organized which part of the poster each student would explain.  They could do it in English, but they could also present in French, which is the language they’re taught in and are fluent in at Lycée. It was so exciting to see the kids’ confidence in what they have learned, as well as their enthusiasm to share it.

It was special for us because we’ve sent Shannon to Lycée since kindergarten, so we have known some of these students since they were very young. We saw quiet students grow confident as they delivered their presentations. We saw more rambunctious students show great focus in their explanations.

It is great that Lycée gives children the chance to learn in a new way. There is not just one straight and narrow way of teaching or learning. You can learn at the zoo. You can learn in the French Quarter. You can learn from public speaking. You can learn from giving a presentation.

Families are encouraged to be a part of out-of-class learning as well. Leslie has been a part of field trips, for instance. Last year, Shannon’s class went to the farmers market Uptown, and to the Prytania Theater to watch animated movies in French. They went to the New Orleans Jazz Museum for the “Drumsville!” exhibit, which Leslie helped plan. Right now, she is busy planning another field trip to the French Quarter through Lycée’s great partnership with the Jazz Museum.

Shannon ready for school

Parents are also welcomed to be involved in other ways, like being in the PTO or by simply visiting your child in their classroom, assisting with activities. Whether we’re participating in field trips or just dropping Shannon off for school, we are pleased with what we see at Lycée. The school is multicultural, multiracial, and multilingual. It’s like a mini United Nations. There are children from so many ethnic backgrounds. In that type of environment, every child gets the sense that they can walk the world. They see the beauty in differences from a very young age. They develop empathy by getting to know children who are different from them.

If every school were like this, it would be great for New Orleans. We brag all the time: we are the most multicultural city. We work, we play, and we live amongst people who are different from each other. We need more schools that celebrate and make the most of this.

Thankfully, Lycée is growing. They are building out a new grade each year to become a fully fledged Pre-K4-12th grade school and are planning to ultimately offering a Louisiana High School Diploma and the French-American Baccalauréat. This year, they have their first ninth grade class, and next year they’ll add a tenth grade, and so on. By the time Shannon is a freshman, they will have had a full high school for some time. We are grateful for this. It is particularly exciting for Shannon to graduate from a school accredited by the French Ministry of Education, because once he graduates, he has the choice to attend any French university, notoriously less expensive. That’s incredibly valuable.

What’s most valuable, though, is the environment the school provides each day, and the person it’s helping our son to be. Our dream for Shannon is that he grows up healthy, happy, and doing what he loves. We want him to just be himself. Lycée is nurturing that. He leaves for school happy and he comes home from school happy, and he’s getting a great education. His school is just the right fit for him.

Lycée Français de la Nouvelle-Orléans is located at 5951 Patton Street. Enrollment for the 2020-2021 school year for Lycée Français and nearly all New Orleans public schools is open now through EnrollNOLA. You can find out more information at enrollnola.org or call or visit a Family Resource Center.

The New Orleans Uptown Public School Series is brought to you by New Schools for New Orleans in partnership with NOLA Messenger.

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