For the week of January 27, 1999   thru February 2, 1999  

France firsthand

Teacher plans trip abroad for high schoolers

Express Staff Writer

j27french.jpg (17694 bytes)Wood River High School French teacher Edith Iler works under a poster symbolizing her goal: a trip to Paris, France. (Express photo by Willy Cook)

Years of foreign language classes in high school can provide a solid foundation, but a month abroad can provide fluency.

That is the belief of one Wood River High School French teacher, who wants to immerse her students in the culture they have been studying for years in books and on tape.

Edith Iler is organizing a trip to France for a small group of juniors and seniors after the regular school year ends in June.

Fluency to Iler means more than just the facility to speak French. She wants her students to pick up the nuances of French culture, to gain a better perspective of American culture by looking through the lens of French culture and, she emphasizes, to get excited about learning.

"Our itinerary has a combination of classroom work, cultural exploration and just wandering beaches," said Iler, whose enthusiasm for the trip is infectious.

Iler, who has guided hiking and bicycling trips through France, charted a tentative course that will take the students from Paris to Bordeaux, through the Loire Valley and up to the northern coast of Normandy.

The trip will not, however, be just castle hopping and D-Day beach bathing. For the first 10 days, the students will live with French families in Villeneuve, a small town outside Bordeaux. Once there--and recovered from jet lag--students will attend college-level courses in French language and culture.

Iler linked up with Alliances Abroad, a study abroad organization that will facilitate the 10-day home-stay and schooling.

Host families, according to an Alliance Abroad brochure, are carefully selected and matched with students according to preferences and profiles noted on application materials.

Wood River students have expressed some reservations about their reservations with the French families.

But Iler has faith in the home-stays.

"European families are so hospitable. They’re accustomed to welcoming foreigners," Iler said. "My experience has been that when you live with a French-speaking family, you learn how to speak better and quicker. And you end up building relationships."

Alliances Abroad has worked with college students for more than 60 years and is planning a special program for Wood River High School students. Students will log 33 hours of class time during their stay in Villeneuve. As an added bonus for the students, Alliance Abroad is arranging for them to receive college credit for their academic work and subsequent travel.

Free time and some flexibility are also built in to the itinerary so that Iler, her students and chaperones can customize their travel plans.

After class work and home-stays in Villeneuve, the students will be whisked by the bullet train to Paris, and then to the Loire Valley. Iler hopes to rent a van in the Loire Valley, which will enable the group to explore this lush region of castles. Venturing north, the group will take in the walled city of St. Malo, Mont St. Michel, Rennes, Normandy’s D-Day beaches, and the American and Canadian cemetery.

The itinerary for the second 10 days will be planned collectively and will depend largely on the group’s budget.

Cost for the entire trip is estimated at $2,700. Students and parents are investigating a variety of funding sources, including prize drawings with local businesses, a community garage sale, and possibly a dinner benefit.

The trip is contingent upon school board approval, which bases its evaluation on safety and educational issues. The school board responded favorably to a preliminary presentation from Iler on Jan. 12.

"My recommendation will be to approve the trip," superintendent Phil Homer said in an interview.

The school board looks for a 5-to-1 student to chaperone ratio on such trips, which Iler said she would try to accommodate.

"I see this as a great educational experience," said Leslie Williams, the mother of two Wood River High School students, Ricky, 14, and Erin, 15, who are interested in the trip. "If they go, they’ll be getting a college-level education and will get to really see another culture."

Williams is working with other parents to realize the funding goals.

Iler said she hopes the trip will become a regular part of foreign-language offerings at the high school.


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