As the only Dual Enrollment French teacher in the county, Fairfax HS teacher Nathalie Coyle understands the significance of not only creating a welcoming environment for her students today but helping prepare them for their college experiences in the future. Coyle is determined to provide students at all levels in her French courses at Fairfax HS not only a love of the French language and culture, but also a welcoming community at the school. As Antoine St. Exupery says in Le Petit Prince, “I try to help my students see with their heart,” says Coyle.
Through a partnership with Northern Virginia Community College, French 4 Dual Enrollment students earn college credit for each semester of French taken in high school, saving money on tuition, and preparing students with college-level courses.
The lessons in all Coyle’s classes go beyond vocabulary and pronunciation. Students watch French movies, listen to popular French music, go on field trips to art museums, and even a trip to Busch Gardens for her French 4/Dual Enrollment students. “My Dual Enrollment students are working so hard earning college credits we wanted to provide a fun outing for them to recharge and celebrate their accomplishments,” says Coyle. This summer, Coyle is taking twenty students to France for a ten-day tour for students to practice what they have learned.
For some potential students, French might be intimidating. But current and former students of the French program encourage them to try the language. Former student Ella, now at Christopher Newport University, made a video for prospective students. “The biggest thing the French program at Fairfax gave me is confidence. By the time I graduated, I was much more confident in my abilities, and I was able to take much higher levels of French in college” said Ella who took four years of French at FHS.
Coyle feels one way for students to find success is to try French at the middle school level. By taking French in seventh and eight grade, students build a solid foundation with vocabulary and pronunciation that will help them in high school.
The early French language courses at FHS begin with topics about the student such as likes and dislikes, family, weather, and hobbies. The coursework develops as the students’ progress into topics such as the environment, government, and media. All classes emphasize French culture around the world such as Africa and the Middle East. Coyle will also provide personal connections with her students such as inviting her uncle who was the French Ambassador to Zambia for a classroom Zoom visit.
Another way students can find community and develop their French is through the French Honor Society. The group inducts about 15-20 students per year and have meetings to plan fun activities and events. The club recently met with elementary students at the FHS annual Pyramid Night before a football game and played games and taught beginning French to future Fairfax HS students.
“My goal is not only to open students to the possibilities French can give them, but to provide a welcoming community and connection while they are here at Fairfax High School” says Coyle.