New French school wants students to see world differently

An upside down map of the world stretches across the wall of the classroom where students at the French American School of Puget Sound on Mercer Island gather for another day of school. For the students at FASPS, the map is not hung incorrectly; it propels a new way of viewing the world. The students come to the school from Bellevue and Seattle and represent more than 20 nationalities, bringing an array of languages and cultures to the learning environment at FASPS.

The school offers education in both French and English for children in pre-kindergarten to sixth grade. From a young age, the students are exposed to a academic program of reading, writing, language, math, history and science in two languages.

As the Director of Admissions, Patricia Blaise-Caves has watched the program grow from 12 students in 1995 to more than 200 walking up and down the hallways today.

“From when they are 3-years-old, they learn to speak other languages so they don’t have to be told to see a situation in different ways and viewpoints; it comes more naturally to them,” she explained.

The French American School of Puget Sound is one of 37 French-American schools in the United States. The school is fully accredited by the French Ministry of Education, the Pacific Northwest Association of Independent Schools, and approved by the Washington State Office of Public Instruction.

“I think the way things are going, the children that go through this type of program have a very well established world view. In the future, over the next 20 years, they will grow to be adults who have to think globally and internationally- and they will be well prepared,” Blaise-Caves emphasized.

When the school bell rings, the 210 students file into the two-story building, which up until recently housed preschool through fifth grade. The non-profit bilingual immersion school has recently incorporated a middle school, beginning with grade six this year and adding seventh and eighth grade over the next two years.

The school has structured the new program after the International Baccalaureate Middle Years Programme, an approach to education that has been around for more than 40 years and is in 131 countries. The program reaches nearly half-a-million students worldwide, with most schools in the United States.

The IB Middle Years Programme is open to students who may or may not be fluent in French. The addition of the program will allow students who have grown up in the bilingual atmosphere to continue on with their schooling and will invite students from outside programs to join FASPS as well.

“All universities recognize it and it’s well respected around the world,” said Tina Proctor, a sixth-grade teacher who has been teaching the IB Programme around the world for more than 20 years. “It’s a very complex program that is a very good approach to education.”

The IB Programme will offer both a bilingual and a non-bilingual section for the students to learn. Both sections will embrace the same philosophy and approach to education and the two sections will join together in some classes.

The IB Programme goes beyond teaching facts and figures and instead, addresses skills, knowledge and attitudes towards learning, community and the world. The goal of the program is to teach students how to learn to participate actively and become global citizens.

According to Robert Harrahill, director of development for FASPS, the IB Programme takes all the best ideas and research surrounding education and and puts them together in one package combining academics with community service, learning skills, social interaction, cultural understanding and emotional framework.

“It isn’t just about academics,” Proctor explained. “Its about creating the leaders of the future.”

Currently, there are a limited number of schools in the Bellevue and Seattle area that offer the IB Middle Years Programme. The International School in Bellevue, a middle school and high school with admissions based on a lottery system, is one of few which offer the program.

“Several years back we did a strategic plan and we found that students who came through fifth grade had this incredible language skill of French and English, but after elementary school they had no resources to continue on,” Blaise-Caves said. “By adding the middle school years, the practice helps to lock the languages and learning in the brain.”

“These kids who go here have such an advantage even if they don’t go to France and use the language,” Proctor said. “Just being bilingual and being exposed to a different language will open so many doors in the future.”

Admissions to the school are limited and are based on an application process. The next information night for the 2009/2010 school year will take place on Jan. 15 at 6:30 p.m.

“In the Seattle area, there is so much global business and work travel. Just knowing another language places you at an advantage,” Harrahill explained, adding, “Learning other languages helps kids look outside the box. As adults, it’s difficult to learn a new language because we are so stuck on the rules of sentence structure. Just knowing that there’s more than one way to form a sentence gives these students a better understanding of grasping the world around them.”

The French American School of Puget Sound is located at 3795 East Mercer Way on Mercer Island. For more information, visit or call 206-275-3533.

To find out more about the IB Middle School Programs visit,

Lindsay Larin can be reached at or 425-453-4602.