Reviewed by Thanh
You should consider this school if you're looking for a place with: a core foundation of language immersion via French; emphasis on broadening children’s minds to a truly global horizon, very structured curriculum (based on French curriculum established by the French Ministry of Education, that ultimately prepares students to pass the difficult Baccalaureat), a very involved parental community, amazing extracurricular activities at each grade beginning with 1st (e.g., overnight camping in Santa Cruz Mountains, snorkeling on Catalina Island, even two week trip for French exchange in 5th grade), an amazing renovated IT lab and library setting, a very urban school setting located right next to the symphony and opera.
Web site: www.frenchamericansf.org
School tours: by appointment
Location: 150 Oak Street, Civic Center
Start time: 8:20 a.m.
Kindergarten size: 20 students, one class. There are 3 pre-K and 4 K classes.
Average class size lower school, K–5: 22, one class per grade
Average class size middle school, 6–8: don’t know
Total student body: 867 students (remember, preK-12)
Tuition: $18,970 (lower school), $20,510 (middle school)
Financial aid: Financial Aid assistance is awarded on the basis of need and the potential family contribution as reported by School and Student Services for Financial Aid.
Before- and after-school program: School run enrichment program 7:30am- 6:15pm; $12.50/hour (drop-in use), $8.50/hour (regular but not necessarily full-time use), $2,750/year (full-time use) – enrichment programs in music (based on Orff philosophy and taught in French), movements, sports, arts/crafts and computers
Language: 80% French instruction until 4th grade, 50% in 5th and 6th grade, then 70% 7th and 8th.
Highlights: Each year, students in grades 1 to 5 are involved in an overnight outdoor education program which complements and enriches their studies in the classroom:
• 1st and 2nd graders experience a hands-on, experiential program at a nature camp for three days
• 3rd graders expand their knowledge of California History by spending three days in the gold country studying Native American cultures;
• 4th graders spend five days at the Headlands Institute at Marin Headlands in an environmental education program;
• 5th graders culminate their lower school bilingual education with an exchange trip to France for up to two weeks.
In so many ways, French American represents one of the main reasons why I would imagine many of us have decided to stay in San Francisco – a community that actively cultivates a global perspective, educating children in a thorough curriculum that will allow them to be true world citizens.
The beginning of the tour was parent-led and then ended with an intimate group discussion with Andrew Brown, the Director of Admissions for the Lower School.
The school’s mission is to provide a foundation of academic rigor and diversity, to prepare students for a world in which the ability to think critically and to communicate across cultures is of “paramount importance.”
In the pre-K class we observed 21 kids, who had only been there for 5 weeks, sitting in circle with the teacher and assistant discussing in French “compote de pommes” (applesauce). The teacher asked the students the ingredients. About 60% offered the ingredients in French, pommes, l’eau, etc. and 40% offered them in English. If an English word was offered, the teacher would review the French words – so for instance, they all learned that the word for cinnamon was “cannelle.” There was no pressure to “know the right word” – it was clear that this was to help expand and broaden and not “get it right.” They sang two songs in French, with the asst. teacher playing guitar and the primary teacher playing the flute – one song taught them the different French words for the days of the week. And all kids seem to know the song by heart. After 5 weeks, that was pretty impressive! In the K class we observed, we saw 22 kids sitting on the ground in a circle, getting ready for class. The kids were well behaved, eager and clearly looking forward to what was to come next. At the moment we were observing, the teacher was going over some expectations for the class and provided instruction in French and repeating in English for emphasis. About half the kids in K come from the pre-K, so if you’re child starts kindergarten, without knowing French, I wouldn’t be worried. I should note that all teachers are native French speakers.
We viewed a 3rd grade class and saw a bit of a 4th grade class. In my quick observation, I believe it looked like Pre-K to 3rd grade classrooms had intimate group tables, and starting in 4th grade, each student got individual desks. We saw a great computer lab just for the Pre-K to 3rd grade set, a great gymnasium (with apparently an impressive middle school girls’ basketball team), a wonderful, intimate library dedicated just for K to 3rd grade, with what looked like to full-time librarians just for that one library! There was a nice playground for Pre-K and 1st graders, and across the street and nice size outdoor basketball court and mini-playground for 2nd and 3rd graders. We entered into a very impressive art studio for the Lower School with an art teacher with her Masters in Fine Arts preparing for her next class and an impressive offering of different media offered to the students. The physical tour ended up on the 6th floor in the high school, with a newly renovated IT lab and a truly (truly) impressive library and view of SF to kill for.
Homework at French American starts in 1st grade, with no homework on the weekends up until 5th grade. Apparently, starting in 4th or 5th grade, homework becomes quite important. No matter where you fall down on the homework debate, I will say the fact that French American kids are reading The Odyssey (in French) by the time they are in 8th grade, speaks volumes for the level of academic excellence the school strives for. I could be wrong, but I swear, I didn’t read The Odyssey until I was a sophomore in high school.
The tour ended up at the Admissions office with Andrew Brown, the Admissions Director for the Lower School. It was a very different and intimate experience than I have experienced on other tours. We were served tea and were asked to speak first about ourselves and backgrounds and then shoot away at any questions we had. It was a nice setting and Andrew seemed genuinely interested in getting to know about the parents and why they were interested in French American. And for me, that fit in to the background of a school that is interested educating global citizens. Before you get the idea that you have to have some exotic background to fit in – I don’t think that is the case. 70% of French American kids come from families who do not speak French at home. But I do get the feeling that based on their mission, the school looks to families who are committed to reinforcing their children with a global perspective.
One point I would bring up here is the question of the relevancy of the French language. It seems that by 6th grade all students are completely and fully fluent in French, orally and written. One of my husband’s primary questions was the relevancy of learning French and how useful that would that be going forward. After a morning at French American, I walk away with the following perspective: learning another language when you are young provides you with an inherent awareness and appreciation of a broader set of cultures, language and context of all kinds. And if, as parent, that falls on top of a priority list, this school is worth looking at. Looking at the kids as we toured the school from Pre-K through to the high school, I observed kids who were mature and confident. Because French American goes through 12th, it’s a lot to take in for most parents just focused on kindergarten. But I would imagine that if your child likes structure, is bookish - and verbally confident – along with being very bright-eyed and inquisitive – he or she would do very well at French American.