There were French legionnaires, French artists, French maids, French dolls and can-can girls in the hallways and classrooms of Douglas MacArthur Elementary School last Wednesday.
October 16 marked French Day at the school, the brainchild of art teacher Tanya Morris-Rosera and school nurse, Ginger Voeller, and everyone was celebrating. It provided fun activities for students stuck inside, and dovetailed nicely with some teachers’ lessons.
“I am teaching the children about the impressionists in art class,” Morris-Rosera explained. “I have developed a method of teaching that I call global art on a timeline.” She tries to immerse students in the culture and history of the subject they are studying, in this case the 19th-Century Paris where artists like Manet, Monet and Degas lived and worked.
Morris-Rosera was looking for a way to involve more than just the art classes. “I wanted to think of a way to get everyone involved so I discussed it with our school nurse and everything just evolved from there,” she said. Hopefully, she said, the method will give students a better understanding of the subject, and it fits in with the demands of Standards of Learning exams.
Originally, French Day was going to include French pastries, purchased with PTA money. But Voeller learned that district’s food service staff had grant money available for special projects. “I contacted [Ralph] Schobitz, the director of food service, and he responded in a way that was much more than I could have hoped for,” she said.
Schobitz proposed French menus for the entire day, and he helped serve the meals in his own French Day costume, a a chef’s outfit complete with tall hat. For breakfast, the children ate French toast. For lunch, they had Chicken Cordon Bleu, croissants, French-style green beans, French fried potatoes, French apple pie and French vanilla ice cream. Everyone ate in the cafeteria.
COSTUMES WERE de rigeur for students and teachers too, with some first graders dressed as fictional French schoolgirl Madeleine, along with a fair share of berets. Principal Debbie Thompson and other members of the office staff dressed as can-can girls – nothing risqué, of course.
“It was really a marvelous day,” said Thompson. “Everyone got involved. Teachers and children came to school in costume and it was great to see the children’s faces as they went to class and found their science teacher dressed as Louis Pasteur and their art teacher dressed as Madame Bouffant.”
Children in each class got involved in activities that taught them something about France in general, or about the impressionist period in particular. Andrew Romaine, a fifth grader, won the essay contest.
“I would like to visit France to see the Tour de France, the most famous bicycling event in the world,” he wrote. “The Tour de France is a 2,032 mile bicycling race that lasts 21 days.
The best part of the Tour de France would be watching the winner come across the finish line at Champs-Elysees in Paris. I would hold the American flag and root for Lance Armstrong, who is not only a four-time Tour de France champion but also a cancer survivor,” Romaine wrote.
FRENCH DAY HAD many benefits, Thompson said, in what it focused on and in what it didn’t.
“We have all been under a great deal of stress these past few weeks,” she said. “This was a marvelous way to take our minds off snipers and being unable to take the children out for recess.”
It was also an opportunity to educate everyone, teachers and students alike, about France while having a little fun.
“The response was overwhelming: parents loved the idea, children loved the idea and the staff loved the idea. We will have to find other ways to get the entire school involved in things like this,” Thompson said.
Who knows? It might also be a good example for other schools to follow.