Voila! French students get lessons in culture, community at Chugiak camp

Monday, November 4, 2019 - 10:28
  • Students learn about West African mudcloth during French Camp at the Birchwood Camp in Chugiak on Oct. 11-12. (Photo by Cara O’Brien-Holden / Courtesy)
  • Students celebrate together after winning the “Camp Trophie” during French Camp at the Birchwood Camp in Chugiak on Oct. 11. (Photo by Cara O’Brien-Holden / Courtesy)

Participants at a French language camp near Beach Lake in Chugiak may soon be in danger of getting deja vu.

“We’ve got one student who has been at every camp so far,” said Nicole Ayers, a foreign language teacher at Chugiak High who started the third-annual camp in 2017 as a way to build a bit of esprit de corps among high school French programs within the Anchorage School District.

Ayers said she modeled the two-day camp at the Birchwood Camp after a successful program the district’s German teachers began three decades ago.

“We took inspiration from them,” she said.

The first year, about 30 students attended the camp. Last year there were more than 50, with this year’s camp attracting almost 80 students from seven of the district’s eight public high schools.

“It’s just exciting to see it grow,” Ayers said.

The camp is semi-immersive in nature, with teachers speaking French as much as possible. But it’s open to all students regardless of proficiency, Ayers said, and the main focus is on learning about the varied and diverse cultures of the French-speaking world.

“There are far more French speakers outside of France than inside,” she said.

Ayers said students ate waffles from Belgium, crafted bracelets from Martinique and participated in a traditional tea ceremony from Morocco. With French spoken as an official language in nearly 30 countries from Canada to Cameroon, she said it’s important to show students just how useful the language can be.

“I think it helps with getting them excited,” she said. “And it gives them the opportunity to use the language outside of the classroom.”

Ayers said about 15 students from Chugiak and a dozen from Eagle River High participated. One added benefit of the program, she said, is it not only gives French students a chance to connect with cultures globally but also their French-speaking peers at other high schools in the district.

“It’s community building.”

Email Star editor Matt Tunseth at [email protected] or call 257-4274.

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