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Faustine Sun (left) and Sara Laure-Faraji (right) both speak of rewarding experiences volunteering with the Francophone Community Partnership.

Credit: Lizzy Machielse

Third year PhD student Fiona Moreno of the French and Francophone Studies department first noticed the lack of French-speaking opportunities for students in West Philadelphia when she started teaching at Penn. As Director of La Maison Française (the French House) at Gregory College House, however, she saw an opportunity to fill this need.

Moreno spearheaded a program last spring, the Francophone Community Partnership (FCP), to connect French-language students at Penn with students at Lea Elementary School with a special interest in learning French.

“West Philly is home to many first and second generation immigrant children born to French-speaking African parents, eager to practice French, and lacking structured opportunities to do so,” Moreno explained via email because she is currently in Switzerland and unable to speak on the phone. “French language students at Penn may not always be aware of the diversity of the French-speaking world, just as they may not suspect an important Francophone presence at the campus’ doors.”

After meeting with the Netter Center’s ABCS Course Coordinator, Janee Franklin, Moreno got in touch with Lea’s principal Jennifer Duffy and its bilingual counseling assistant, Penda Diawara.

Diawara gathered together the students interested in the program, contacting the families she knew from the district and other nearby school districts.

Moreno also put together a team of Penn volunteers with the freedom to craft their own programs with their Lea students.

Sara-Laure Faraji, a College senior and one of the current assistant program directors, said she decided to join because “FCP combined both of my interests: my volunteering interest, the fact that I could work with kids... and also it gave me the chance to interact in French, French being my native language. I missed it, and I felt like I could bring something to the community.”

The program has impacted both the Penn and Lea students. Both volunteers and students grew more confident with French and built relationships with their FCP partners.

“FCP kids can have a very conflicted relationship with their multilingual identities, and such a recognition is no small thing; it translates into boosted student pride and self-confidence,” Moreno said in an email.

Faustine Sun, a College sophomore who currently serves as the other assistant program director, described the impact the program has had on the Lea students: “At the last session of the semester, last semester, the kids came up to me one by one and gave me hugs, and it was great. They asked when it would start up again, they were gonna miss me, and the fact that they really love their volunteers. That was very heartwarming.”

Interest in the program grew quickly. “It is significant that several participants are in fact attending other schools than Lea, yet they join weekly and number among our most involved students,” Moreno said.

FCP runs during Lea’s after school program time, around 3:15-4:30, and it is sometimes difficult to coordinate all of the Penn students’ schedules to choose a day.

“We want to keep offering a customized experience to the students involved, which requires a volunteer body large enough to preserve a 1:3 volunteer-children ratio,” Moreno said. “Volunteers are literacy tutors, language teachers, mentors, learners, all at once.”

After the program began last spring, the Quebec Government Office in New York adopted FCP and Lea “in recognition of their commitment to promoting bilingualism and awareness of Francophone cultures,” Moreno stated.

FCP will also participate in Penn Museum’s 27th annual Celebration of African Cultures and a Quebecois-Senegalese spoken word workshop.

Starting this school year, Lea hired a French teacher, Mr. Bukahsa, due to the interest in the language and the French-speaking population at the school. Sun described Bukahsa as “very passionate about French and [he] really wants to spread his love of French.”

Moreno, Sun, and Faraji hope to grow the program this semester. “We’re always open to volunteers, no matter the French level,” Faraji said. “Lea students are very entertaining and very attachant.”

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