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Creating opportunities for building Francophone identity: Real benefits!

Association canadienne d'éducation de langue française (ACELF)

2013-06-03

In Canada, and more specifically in the country's Francophone communities, the Association canadienne d'éducation de langue française (ACELF) is well known for its work in identity building. By offering tools and programs ideally suited to the realities of education in Francophone minority communities, the ACELF lends direct support to French-language school administrators and teaching staff in their dual mandate: to teach school subjects while providing students with opportunities for forging a Francophone identity.

Identity building: a personal process

Identity building is a dynamic, evolving and highly personal process. While people are influenced by the environment in which they live (family, school, community, friends), they remain the architects of their own identity development. And while at first glance it may seem difficult to measure the actual impacts of any actions taken to build identity in young people, these impacts are nevertheless very real in the hearts and minds of the students and educators concerned.

Awareness

For many, opportunities for identity building foster real awareness, as shown by the experience of Allex Laurin, a Franco-Ontarian who accompanied his mother to Québec a few years ago while she participated in development sessions provided by the ACELF: "It was an eye-opener for me. It was the first time I was in a place where everything took place in French, where I could go to a restaurant and order in my language, and where I had to speak French. I was 8 or 9 years old at the time, and I will always remember that trip." While this experience showed Allex that the French language was very much alive, it also made him realize just how proud he was to speak it…

Donna Vigneux, a Grade 8 teacher at the Monseigneur Augustin Caron school in LaSalle, Ontario, has also noticed that growth in awareness is one of the first impacts of school involvement in identity building. "My goal as a teacher has always been to encourage young people to embrace their Francophone culture," she explained. "With the ACELF, I can go further. So when the chance to go on a French-language exchange came up, I jumped at it! In 2011-2012, Donna's students therefore participated in a French-language exchange organized by the ACELF with a school in Tête-à-la-Baleine, in Quebec's Lower North Shore.

"My students were happy to discover an environment where French was spoken everywhere. They were surprised that such a thing was possible! At this point, many realized that the Francophonie extended beyond their house or their school…and this had the effect of "hooking" them on their language," she explained. Many of Donna's students realized that they and their Quebec friends shared not only the same language but also the same tastes in music and food, as well as a common identity. "My students realized that they could truly embrace their French, that it was their culture as well."

From awareness to action

Since his stay in Québec, Allex has invariably chosen to pursue his studies in French. "This experience really made me want to improve my French and get more involved in Francophone activities at school and in my community. I have met such amazing people through these activities! And now I feel that many opportunities are opening up for me," added Allex, who is now offering his talents in graphic design to the Fédération canadienne des directions d'écoles francophones.

In 2010, an identity-building pilot project was set up in the schools of the Hauts-Bois-de-l'Outaouais School Board, in Quebec's Pontiac region. "In the first two years of the project," explained Michel Labine, a Grade 5 teacher at Poupore School in Fort-Coulonge, "we mainly increased our awareness of our students' Francophone reality, of our region's specific needs given its proximity to Ontario, and of the challenges that this proximity might pose for our students. But this year, we took action!"

Michel and other staff members at his school put in place a unique project, "Palmarès de chansons francophones" [Top French Songs], involving the entire student body. The 25-week-long project will soon come to an end, with students receiving a much-anticipated CD. "As the weeks went by, the students were increasingly looking forward to hearing the songs. Many even bought French CDs for Christmas," said Michel, an avid music fan. "I also noticed that many of them were using vocabulary they had studied in the songs. It's a big step for us. The students are willing to follow us in this adventure—it's wonderful!"

In Donna's classroom, in Ontario, one student who became aware of his Francophone reality was prompted to choose a different course of action. "This student had enrolled in an Anglophone high school to play football," recalls the teacher. After the exchange, he reconsidered his choice and ended up enrolling in the French school. It is a choice that makes him very happy today… all the more so since the school now has its own football team!"

Taking action to motivate

Creating opportunities for identity building does not mean implementing a series of exercises that would guarantee the attainment of a Francophone identity in the end. Being Francophone is a decision that young people must make on their own, day after day. For this reason, educators cannot force it on them. All they can do is motivate them through sustained actions that respect their personality. Little by little, these actions work their way into students' hearts. And for many students, this is a true starting point in the affirmation of their Francophone identity.