Monday, April 25, 2011

Au Revoir, Châteaulin

As I write this I am now home for the Easter holiday with my family. I came home three days ago and the rest of the exchange group will be coming home tomorrow. I am still reflecting on the experience, as it was one filled with new learning about people, cultures, and how we best educate kids.

Here’s some thoughts swimming around in my head, in no particular order of importance:

  • Many thanks to Monsieur Gérard Benoît and Madame Leslie Gildersleeve for inviting me to be part of this! They work so hard to make this exchange be the tremendous success that it is!! Magnifique!

  • Their counterparts at Le Collège et Lycée Saint-Louis, Mme. Magali Ropert and Mme. Ani Dréan, and M. Claude Toscer are top-notch teachers and people as well! Many thanks to them.

  • I’m glad I got the opportunity to reconnect with my friend and colleague, the director of Le Collège et Lycée Saint-Louis, Monsieur Olivier Queneuder. He is a fine leader, as he is bright and hard-working, but most importantly, has a vision as to where he wants to take Saint-Louis.

  • To Olivier’s wife, Ann Marie- merci!! You were a remarkable hostess and your excellent command of English was my saving grace as I fumbled through my attempts at French! You’re an outstanding teacher and mother!

  • The 13 students that Monsieur and Madame brought to France are amongst our best and brightest. They have represented Mansfield with nothing but class and pride. I certainly hope that this experience has been filled with meaningful learning for each of them. I know you’ve taken your command of French to a new level… I hope you’ve established some new, life-long friendships as well. I know I have.

À Bientôt!

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Off on a Bit of a Tangent...

Why am I showing the above 19-second clip? Because it’s around a topic I feel very passionate about- universal health care coverage.

If you’ve seen Michael Moore’s 2008 documentary on the American health care system, Sicko, you are probably aware that he covers the French health care system quite a bit. Part of his coverage includes a look at how a team of French doctors (the SOS Medecins Service) still make house calls.

I mention this because the above is exactly what I witnessed the other night. My host’s six-year old son had an incessant cough for two days and it probably developed into bronchitis. Thus, Ann Marie, Olivier’s wife, called the doctor service at approximately 8:00 pm and a physician was at the home a little after 11:00 pm.

I was amazed by this efficiency and rapidly pointed out to Olivier and Ann Marie that something like this would never happen in America. At best, Ann Marie and her son would be in the pediatrician’s office the next morning.

The house call was not free; it cost 60 Euro. However, they will be reimbursed upon submitting the receipt to the National Social Security Service. But the money is not the big issue here- it’s piece of mind. This doctor came and spent 20-25 minutes with Ann Marie and Olivier, examined their son, gave them some pragmatic advice on caring for him over the next couple of days, and provided some prescription medication for his cough and congestion. Even though this doctor was a complete stranger, the care he provided was professional, personalized and reassuring.

Sure, this is only a snapshot… but it was one that made a huge impression on me. On the way things should be with regard to the way health care is delivered.

I think we could learn a lot from the French…

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Our Sister School- Le Collège et Lycée Saint-Louis

At face value, Le Collège et Lycée Saint-Louis is very, very different from MHS. First, the “collège” is the middle school and the “lycée” is the high school. The two levels serve approximately 900 students from throughout the region as many students travel from neighboring towns to attend the school. There are also another 24 students studying in a special post-secondary program in technology and communication.

Saint-Louis is private Catholic school spread out in five different buildings on a sprawling campus. Though it is a Catholic school, it does not have the feel of what we commonly associate with a parochial school. Students do not wear uniforms nor do they have to take mandatory courses in Catholic religious education. Parents pay only 400 Euro (approximately $600) for a year’s tuition. The school is clearly college preparatory in its mission as the overwhelming majority of graduates go on to study at a university. It also stands out as a contrast to Châteaulin’s public secondary school, which is smaller and has more of a career and technical emphasis, particularly in agricultural science.

Students attend school Monday through Friday from 8:00 am to 4:25 pm. This sounds like a long day, however the pace is very child-centered, and dare I say, sane. All students have 90 minutes for lunch and 20-minute breaks are built into the morning and afternoon sessions. During these breaks the younger students play outdoors and the older students congregate. All students have schedules that are akin to a schedule a student may have in college, where not all classes meet daily. Students must take scheduled one-hour classes in all core academic areas, English, the arts, and technology. Lycée students may also access German or Spanish as a foreign language. Interestingly enough, the sports teams (soccer, swimming, basketball, table tennis, and gymnastics) practice during the school day as their time is built into the schedule, not after school.

The class sizes vary. Some, particularly in the college, are very large as I observed over 30 students in one class. I also observed very reasonable ones in the range of 20 in the lycée. The interesting piece is that the students do not change classrooms throughout the day- the teachers do. Thus, the same cohort of students stays together all day in the same classroom, much like we do in the US with elementary school students. The teachers move in and out of classrooms based upon their schedules. It should also be noted that the typical teacher schedule involves teaching two classes per day. Time for planning, professional development, and parent conferences is built into teacher schedules and is highly valued.

12-year old students in the collège during an English class. (And yes, they stood for me when I entered the room...)

Despite these many structural differences… kids are kids! Monsieur Benoit, Madame Gildersleeve, and I have heard the same joys and challenges of teaching from the Saint-Louis teachers that we hear back home. Pride over the student who works hard and achieves at the highest level. Finding new ways to use technology so students may be effective communicators and problem-solvers. Frustration over students who are apathetic and don’t follow through on completing assignments. Students who are incessantly tardy. In that regard we are the same and share a common bond with our sister school!

Above is the student library of Saint-Louis.

The gymasium/field house of Saint-Louis. It is used for both students and community members for sports such as soccer, basketball, and gymnastics.

Some Thoughts on French Cuisine

Andrew Marcaccio, Joe Presentato, Andrew Moomey, Pritha Ray, and Chris Menz enjoy some croque monsieurs in a Paris cafe.

This is my first time visiting France and I feel the need to comment on the cuisine. I should say upfront that I generally dislike all stereotypes because they are often untrue…. But not in the case of French food! I can honestly say that I never have eaten more bread and cheese in the past week than in my entire life!

So far our diet has featured the following staples:

• French baquettes- at each and every meal
• Jambon et fromage (ham and cheese) everywhere in every possible configuration
• Crepes... they are a staple as a whole meal or as a dessert. In fact, it seems as if half of the restaurants in both Paris and Chateaulin are “creperies.” As a meal crepes are stuffed with ham and cheese, egg, or chicken. As a dessert they are stuffed with various fruits, jam, chocolate, Nutella (yum), or just topped with butter and sugar.
• Paté is very big, particularly in Brittany. Somehow salmon paté with little pickles on top doesn’t really cut it as a salad for me…
• A bottle of water is always on the table for all. For the adults, wine is always offered.

My best meal was prepared by my host, Olivier, the director of the exchange school: roasted duck! Tres bien!

I’m sure we would all agree that our very generous French hosts have served us wholesome, hearty meals. No one has gone hungry here!

And one more thing: French people really do say “Bon appetite!” before starting a meal! : )

If you like fresh bread and pastries, you'd be in luck in France... with a Boulangerie/Patisserie like this one in Chateaulin seemingly on every corner...

"Get thee to a creperie!!"

Friday, April 22, 2011

Châteaulin: Rich In History and Culture

The center of Châteaulin, as seen from the mayor's office.

The town where our exchange school, Le Collège et Lycée Saint-Louis, is located in Châteaulin. Located about 30 km north from the Brittany city of Quimper, the town is only about a half hour drive from the west coast of France. Nestled in between hills, the town is absolutely picturesque as the center is a typical French village, filled with shops, cafes, and restaurants constructed from stone in the 18th and 19th century. The narrow Aulne River cuts through the center of town, separating the north and south ends. This river used to be a vital part of the community, as salmon fishing was the major industry. However, in the past 30 years the salmon population has greatly dwindled, perhaps due to the increased use of fertilizers by farmers. As a result, there are less Châteaulin fishermen and the overall population of the community has dropped from 10,000 to under 6,000 residents.

As there are very few roads throughout the town, there are no “neighborhoods” per se. Other than the center of town, the community very much has a rural feel, as farms are plentiful. Nonethless, many of the conveniences of modern life, such as a supermarket, exist within the town.

On Tuesday the Mayor of Châteaulin, Gaëlle Nicolas (referred to as “Madame Le Maire”) held a formal reception for the MHS and St-Louis exchange students at City Hall. At the reception Madame Le Maire shared a bit of the history of the town and stressed how important Le Collège et Lycée Saint-Louis is to the community. In fact, all three of her children have attended or are attending the school and her daughter will be one of the students coming to Mansfield in October.

The view of Châteaulin from our exchange school, Le Collège et Lycée Saint-Louis.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Bretagne is Beautiful

We are now in the village of Châteaulin, nestled in the heart of the French region of Brittany. Before I post anything about Châteaulin or our sister school Lycee et College de St. Louis, a few words need to be written about Brittany. Bretons are fiercely proud of their land and heritage... and they should be. To say this region of France is absolutely beautiful is an understatement. In the northwest section of France, the region is filled with hills and lush green countryside. It also contains beautiful beaches on the Atlantic Ocean and Breton Sea. Because this region has a temperate climate, people from throughout France and Europe are already enjoying holiday on the many beaches. In fact, most of our students (and myself as well) spent a portion of yesterday at the coast (the picture above is from Pentraz Plage). Nearly all of Bretons are Roman Catholic. In each village the church or cathedral is literally and metaphorically the center of the community. Each village has a church that is very old and rich with history. For example, the town of Locronan is a classic French village with cobblestone streets with shops, cafes, and restaurants (see below). In the "place" (French for center courtyard) is St. Ronan's Church, an amazing church built in the 16th century.

Also adding to the beauty of the area is evidence of the smart way the French have harnessed natural resources- through wind power. In fact, it is the third most popular way electricity is generated in France. Omnipresent through the hills are many large windmills that power turbines. Quite the majestic site!

Maxence, the 13-year old son of Olivier, my host here in Châteaulin, says the following. "I like the United States, but I like France more." After I smiled and nodded, he continued, "But most of all, I love Bretagne!"

Je comprends. (I understand.)

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Bienvenue a France!

We made it! After a six and a half hour flight and staying up for over 36 hours, this year's French exchange group made it to Paris on Wednesday morning at 6:30 am Paris time. It has been cooler than usual Paris in April standards, as it has barely made it to 55 degrees. Nonetheless, we have all had a great and educational time. Some high points in Paris included a trip to the top of the Eiffel Tower (it really is stunning architecture and mind-boggling how high it is!), to the 12th century cathedral Notre Dame, to the majestic Palace of Versailles, and of course, to the Louvre. I can say that our students have been awestruck by the richness of the culture and history of these places.

It has been a whirlwind tour.... very little time to sleep as Madame Gildersleeve and Monsieur Benoit have run everyone ragged. Traveling the Metro, sight-seeing, shopping, and dining everyday from 8 am to 12 midnight!

Above, Lindsey Beise, Laura Burnham, and Ashley Goverman do their best thinking in front of Rodin's famous statue at the Rodin Museum.

Madame poses in front of the beautiful cathedral, Notre Dame.

Andrew Moomey, Chris Menz, Monsieur, and Andrew Marcaccio at the top of the Eiffel Tower.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Poetry In Motion

Above you will see the 2011 Class AA Marching Band New England Champs-the Mansfield High School Percussion Ensemble! Courtesy of Arnie Harchik and the Mansfield Band Parents Association, above is a video of their first place performance at last weekend's NESBA (New England Scholastic Band Association) Finals at Dartmouth HS. The ensemble scored an amazing 94.05 (out of a possible 100 points), their highest of the season. This score certainly puts the group in an elite few in the nation... a perfect time as they leave this coming week to compete at the WGI World Championships. This annual event in Dayton, OH features the finest groups from throughout our nation and the world. In years past, the MHS ensemble has performed very well and has even outright won the competition for its class. Let's do it again!

Congrats to a great group of young men and women! There is hardly a night that I leave MHS after a meeting or a sporting event that I don't see or hear them practicing in the cafeteria, auditorium, or bandroom. Theirs is a journey that began last June, and along the way there has been a lot of hard work, meticulous planning, and perseverance. Regardless of the results of WGI, you have already been big winners and have done our school proud! Good luck!