Founded as a small daycare to serve the city’s francophone population, San Diego French-American School (SDFAS) has grown to incorporate an international community of multilingual students.
“A lot of times people associate French school with very Catholic, very Christian (models), but that is not necessarily the case here,” Kathryn Sampson, SDFAS Assistant Head of School, says. “We have families and faculty from all sorts of backgrounds, races and religions; and as an international school, we recognize just how rich our experience is made by such diversity.”
The student body is made up of 35 different nationalities and about 20 different languages. The school has no religious affiliation; Sampson, a former French teacher at preeminent Harvard-Westlake in Los Angeles, is Jewish.
SDFAS is also the only French-American school in San Diego to include pre-elementary to eighth grade classes to be fully accredited in both the U.S. and France.
“(French accreditation) means that there is a certain way of teaching that the kids are getting that is very different from the American system,” says Sampson. “This is so nice because we can actually pick and choose what is great about both systems and put them together.”
Since French-speaking faculty hold a French teaching credential and the equivalent of a Master’s Degree in Education, their training compliments the teaching styles of American teachers.
The French education system, for example, excels in executive function: planning, organizing, and encouraging autonomy and critical thinking at an early age.
“Combine that with the more creative, project-based learning, and fun side of what American teachers have to (offer), and it really brings an amazingly rounded education to their children,” Sampson says.
Equally significant is the school’s focus on differentiated teaching methods to accommodate students of different language levels and academic interests, preparing students for success later in their academic life.
In Kindergarten, for example, children are divided into three small groups to focus on pre-reading and reading skills that challenge their level.
“In the middle school, particularly, we have electives so students can decide if they want more French or less French; if they want more science or more humanities,” Sampson says.
Depending on their age group, students can also enroll in atypical courses to cater to their specialized interests, from skateboarding and robotics classes to math, literature and advanced Spanish clubs. The school also offers camps during school breaks and after-school programs such as sports, theater, arts, and cooking.
Elementary students who are not fluent in French will spend some of their classroom hours in French as a Second Language. Because the upper grades are taught in combined French and English, Sampson recommends that students unfamiliar with French be enrolled in pre-elementary or early elementary school.
“In addition to offering an excellent individualized education,” Sampson says, “SDFAS creates global citizens who, thanks to their multicultural and multilingual education and everyday community, are prepared to adapt to, empathize with, and succeed in most any environment in which they will participate.”