In February 2016 O’Neal Middle School welcomed back to campus 12 French students from its sister school, the Collège St. Michel, a nationally recognized school of excellence, in Bourgoin-Jallieu. O’Neal’s 8th and 9th graders have been hosting, visiting and collaborating with their French counterparts for the past four years, and this year 12 students were hosted by O’Neal families in their homes for two weeks.
Beyond the personal interactions within the host families, there was a strong collaborative curricular component. In French class students paired up to create presentations on Paris monuments, with O’Neal students presenting in French, and French students presenting in English. They also teamed up with their French counterparts to perform the traditional French song Aux Champs-Elysées. Judy Browne, MS Art teacher, hosted the exchange students as part of a field trip with O’Neal 8th graders to the Nasher Museum in Durham. In history class, Christine Birdsall worked closely with Emilie Manon, visiting history teacher from Collège St. Michel. English teacher Kristi Wolferman began her poetry collaboration with her French counterpart long before the French students arrived at O’Neal, so that the French students were able to be active participants in class discussions once on the O’Neal campus.
As part of The O’Neal School’s ongoing commitment to global understanding through curricular collaboration and cultural exchange, 12 O’Neal 8th and 9th grade French students traveled to France in June, as the reciprocal exchange of the February visit, where they attended school and lived with French host families, before traveling to the Alps, Annecy and Paris. While at school in France O’Neal students attended classes with their French correspondents. In history class, American and French students and teachers worked together to create a storyboard on La Maison d’Izieu, where Jewish children were sequestered during World War II. After presenting the project French and American students visited the site together. They also met with local residents to master the craft of boules lyonnaises, learned about French musicians in music class, and accompanied their French counterparts to an artisanal bakery where they learned about the interconnection and interdependency between farmer, miller and artisan. O’Neal students were also received by the mayor of Bourgoin-Jallieu at the town hall, where they made a presentation on The O’Neal School and its ongoing connection with France. As part of the farewell reception at Collège Saint Michel, O’Neal students presented an aerial view of O’Neal to Principal Pierre Marie and Assistant Principal Jean-Baptiste Balan, solidifying the ongoing connection between the two establishments. Students also were able to parachute off the Alps, and in Paris attended a classical concert on original instruments at the Sainte Chapelle.
The ongoing O’Neal French exchange exemplifies The O’Neal School’s dedication to global outreach and understanding and to providing its students with opportunities for applied learning in authentic settings beyond the classroom. Students return from this experience with an enhanced understanding of cultural differences and connections, and with a sense of personal empowerment and accomplishment.