Can young kids learn French? Midland teacher says ‘mais oui’!

       For years French native Pascale Arnol has taught the language of her native country in college classrooms and private locales throughout the Pikes Peak region. Now, as the only elementary-school French teacher in District 11, she gets to implement her professional finding that, as she phrases it in a letter to parents, “Young children can acquire a second language as easily as their own.”

Midland Elementary French teacher Pascale Arnol leads students in a French song at a recent evening event involving parents and children. As part of its International Baccalaureate format, Midland is the only school in District 11 to teach French at the grade-school level. From left are Riley McNew, Angel Aquino-Denova, Nick Hernandez, Damasio Denova and Belen Denova.
Westside Pioneer photo

       Her position at Midland Elementary - where she's been for seven years - is in keeping with the school's International Baccalaureate (IB) program. Each class takes French from “Madame Arnol” once a week for 45 minutes.
       From Midland, students have the option of continuing the language in North Middle School's IB program (the district's only French-offering school in grade levels 6-8).
       Learning a language should be fun, Arnol believes. She makes regular use of songs and stories in her classes at Midland and leads them in celebration of French holidays. Her husband, area artist Fred Eyer, adds to the effect by drawing caricatures that help bring words and phrases to life. “I enjoy seeing little kids learning,” she said. “It's like magic to them.”
       One of the projects for her fifth-grade students is staying in touch with pen pals in Nice (pronounced “niece”), France. That city on the French Riviera also happens to be where Arnol's brother, his family, and her sister live. It was on a visit back there five years ago that Arnol set up the exchange. She went to an elementary school and learned that, luckily enough, one of its teachers (Florence Bonjean) was about to start looking for a pen-pal school herself.
       The school in Nice where Bonjean teaches now is called Saint Sylvestre.
       In the exchanges, the Midland kids write in French and the Saint Sylvestre kids in English. Arnol helps her youngsters get more comfortable with their second language by giving them compositional models as guides. The correspondents even exchange gifts and videos.
       Coming from a family that's produced numerous teachers - her own daughter is among them now - Arnol started thinking about such a career for herself at a young age. Family members still recall her “teaching” a classroom of dolls when she was just 10 years old. But what subject? That began taking shape with her first English classes at age 12. “I knew then that I wanted to work with languages,” she said. Later, she added German (which she has also since taught at the college level), as well as Latin.

Pascale Arnol points to the location of Nice (her students' pen-pal exchange city) on a map of France outside her classroom at Midland. Her husband, artist Fred Eyer, created the subject-related caricatures.
Westside Pioneer photo

       Arnol has lived in the Pikes Peak region for more than 35 years. Along with teaching French at UCCS, Colorado College, Pikes Peak Community College and the Fountain Valley School, she has maintained a private language-tutoring business.
       But it's teaching those younger kids that's had a special appeal. An early experience was teaching her own children both French and English. Then, about eight years ago, she was asked by the then-Midland principal (Barbara Bishop) to fill in for the French teacher for about two months.
       Arnol found she really liked the elementary classroom setting and how readily younger minds exposed to a new language can “pick it up,” she said. What she's learned, she explains in her letter to parents, is that “a child's brain processes multiple languages in parallel paths, building a second language system alongside the first.” As a result, “a young learner can access a second language separately, without having to translate.”
       So it was, when a permanent position came open at Midland a year or so later, she quickly said yes, and made the move from college to grade school.
       She's had no regrets, even though her school position is just part-time. “The Midland staff is dedicated like I never have seen,” she said. “The principal [Jeremy Cramer] is perfect for the school. I am truly blessed to be here. It's like a family.”

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