The Cultural Services Celebrate 10 Years of the French Heritage Language Program

June 23, 2015 | By French Culture

On Thursday, June 18, 2015, members of the Francophone community in New York gathered to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the French Heritage Language Program and to honor Benoit le Devedec, who was leaving the Embassy after five years overseeing the FHLP. Cultural Counselor Bénédicte de Montlaur presided over the ceremony.

As the Cultural Counselor of the French Embassy, I’d like to welcome you all here tonight. We are gathered for a very happy occasion and for a very sad one. The very happy occasion is the celebration of the tenth anniversary of The French Heritage Language Program. The sad one is that Benoit is leaving us. It saddens me that we won’t get to see him any more. In fact, I tried quite hard to convince him to stay, because he is very difficult to replace. But the time has come for him to move on, even if he loves this program. He’s looking forward to new opportunities.

First, let’s talk about the program. Before coming here, I didn’t know a lot about what was done at the French Cultural Services, but I knew about the French Heritage Language Program. I had previously lived in New York, and I was quite involved with the francophone community, so I had heard a lot about the French Heritage Language Program and how useful it was. When I was working for the Carrefour de la Francophonie Association I could see that a lot of kids, if they didn’t have such a program, would lose their French. And this despite the will of their parents, despite the will of the kids: really, they wanted to learn.

I think it was an extraordinary idea to create this program. It started very small, once a week at just one school. And ten years later, we’ve reached 500 students in 20 schools. I think that’s quite an achievement. And the program didn’t only spread in throughout this city. In addition to being at schools and community centers here in New York, the French Heritage Language Program is now in Maine, Massachusetts and Florida. Since 2005, the program has served over 4000 students.

So these two guys, Fabrice and Benoit — not only do they work in the same office, but they are also companions in arms.  I think the French Heritage Language Program and the bilingual education programs work very well together. They are part of the bilingual revolution in the U.S.  Students have the opportunity to participate in several dual language programs on their educational path in New York, from the French Heritage Language Program, to bilingual public schools and the French Lycées.

Here at the Embassy, we see everything as complementary. Some kids cannot go to the French Lycée or to a bilingual school, so it’s great that they have the French Heritage Language Program. We can adapt to the needs of individual kids. But what we really want is for kids — American kids, French kids, West African Kids, all the kids who want it — to have access to the French language through one of our programs, each program meeting students’ unique needs

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Tonight is the French Heritage Language Program’s 10th anniversary. But it looks more like a birthday party, because it gathers a family. I recognize many faces here tonight of people who are part of the family, people who made the French Heritage Language Program possible. I see the godmother of the program, Jane Ross, without whom nothing would have been possible. Jane is the program’s founder and president, and one of its most generous supporters. Jane, you have helped thousands of children gain a vital skill and stay connected with their heritage. What you’ve done is truly meaningful, and we are so thankful for everything you have done over the years.

I also want to thank Fabrice Jaumont. With Jane and Benoit, Fabrice makes up the team that leads this program. Fabrice has been here since day one of our first program at the Manhattan International High School.

A special thanks as well to Catherine Dumait-Harper for her important role in this program and for supporting its expansion in Florida.

Thank you to the Internationals Network for Public Schools, and in particular to Claire Sylvan, its executive director. Without your help and the help of your organization, none of this would have been possible.

I must thank all the principals and teachers who form the core of the French Heritage Language Program. You are this program; your hard work keeps it running from day to day.

And finally, I want to thank our faithful partners, the FACE Foundation, that harbor this program along with many of the Cultural Services’ other programs.

And now let me turn to Benoit. Benoit, your reputation is amazing. There have only been two coordinators of this program, and when David left, everybody said, “It’s impossible to replace David.” But then Benoit came, and now everybody tells me that it’s impossible to replace Benoit, because he’s so talented. And I think that’s true. While someone will succeed you, I don’t think we will ever replace you. So on behalf of everyone at the Embassy: thank you from the bottom of our hearts. You’ve done so much. You have great energy, and you’re a very positive, generous person. Thank you for your tireless work and dedication. I know that this program is very dear to your heart, and that it will follow you wherever you go. 

You know, when we were looking for someone to lead this program, we looked for many things. We looked for somebody who spoke excellent English, who knew how to teach French, and who was really hands-on. Somebody who wouldn’t hesitate to travel every weekend for a school project, somebody who was dedicated and generous and could mingle with anyone very easily. And I can see from the crowd tonight that Benoit is all of that.

Benoit, thank you for helping this program grow in New York and expand to Maine and Florida. Thank you for all the good you’ve done at the Embassy. Thank you for contributing to a good atmosphere. And thank you for your leadership. I wish you the best in the future — you deserve it. Congratulations and thank you again. 

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