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French Cafe Inspires Estes Hills Students

For two days in April, the French classroom at Estes Hills Elementary School (EHES) became le Café de Estes Hills. Tables were transformed with red-checkered tablecloths and vases of fresh flowers. Traditional café music played softly, and scenes from France flashed on the whiteboard. April in Paris, and all the students at EHES enjoyed a brief interlude to sample a celebratory cultural and culinary experience.

“Bienvenue au Café de Estes Hills!” said French teacher Jaclyn Holland, when each new group of students filed in and took their seats. Holland gestured at the fifth grade servers, as she asked the third grade “customers” to call out, “Bonjour, les serveurs,” and then, “Bonjour, les chefs.” A rotation of French-speaking parent and community volunteers helped out during the two days, and Holland introduced them as well.

Estes parent at French cafe Nico Gourdet is the father of first and third grade students at EHES, and he volunteered for several hours. “The Café is a great way to connect students to the rest of the world, particularly the French-speaking world,” he said. “I love that Mademoiselle Holland invites parents, grandparents, and friends of students to interact during the café. That makes it ‘real’ for the students. They can see that French is a language spoken by many right here in our own community, and it's not just a novelty language spoken only by their French teacher.”

Holland has taught French at EHES for five years, though this is only her third year full-time. It was also the third year of le Café de Estes Hills. The schedule seemed to flow like clockwork, with a rotation of fifth grade students who served as chefs and servers, preparing and serving lemonade or Orangina, and croissants or cheese tarte. Menus created by fourth grade students illustrated the tasty offerings. The volunteers transitioned from one table to the next, making “small talk” in French.

Gourdet speaks fluent French and works internationally. “I'm glad that Estes Hills offers foreign language instruction,” he said. “The cultural competency that students gain from it is critical to success in our increasingly global society. They may grow up to never use French in their lives, but when they're ready to interact with speakers of (or study the language of) Arabic, Spanish, or Mandarin, their brains will have been primed with the cultural and linguistic exposure they received from French class in elementary school.”

Estes French cafe menu Holland said, “I started le Café de Estes Hills because I wanted to create a French program event that would generate some hype and give the students a performance of sorts to prepare for. At the Café, they make use of their learning from throughout the year to order their food and hold conversations in French. I like doing a Café because it's a real-life experience that many students will encounter when they travel to French-speaking countries. I got the idea from my colleague Jennifer Roth, who led the French program at Glenwood for many years. She always did a Café de Glenwood, and I helped with that when I worked with her at Glenwood.”

After 20 minutes in the cafe, as students filed back out to their classrooms, some with chocolate smiles and croissant crumbs on their shirts, a few children took the time to poke or pet Jean-Michel, the soft snail mascot, whose home is on the window ledge. A tiny plastic croissant was stuffed in his mouth, with a napkin under his snail chin. “Au revoir,” the students called out to their hosts, and to Jean Michel.