NORMAN — For more than two years, a group of parents, staff and teachers have worked to establish Le Monde International School, a French and Spanish language-immersion public charter school in Norman.
This past week, Le Monde celebrated its grand opening, roughly a month after beginning classes, with a ribbon cutting and chili fundraiser. The school currently has pre-K through fourth grade classes in French, and pre-K through first grade in Spanish, serving a total of 130 students.
But for school executive director Lance Seeright, Thursday's event was the starting line, not the finish.
"We still have a long way to go," he said. "We want to create not just bilingual students, but biliterate students, so they can not only speak [two languages], but they can write them and read them fluently. We want our students, when they leave us, to be in a good position academically and personally."
Students performed songs in both French and Spanish, and individuals from staff members to architects to a representative from the French Embassy in Houston were acknowledged during the ceremony. Board president Loida Salmond thanked a variety of individuals and organizations involved in the creation of the school, including the Walton Family Foundation, which gave Le Monde a $325,000 public charter startup grant, and attorney Bill Hickman, who represented the school in front of the state board of education.
"We are positioning our students to acquire the life skills necessary to become successful adults," she said. "The academic benefits of being bilingual have been scientifically proven again and again."
The lengthy process of starting a charter school from scratch required approval from the state board of education after Norman Public Schools declined to sponsor the public charter school. School board vice president Jody Britt first engaged in discussions with other parents about creating a language immersion school after the French program at Reagan Elementary was shut down due to funding cuts.
"It's incredible to think that we've come this far," Britt said. "Tonight was a great celebration, but the really rewarding part is walking down the halls, seeing the students' projects on the walls, to hear them speak French and Spanish. It's amazing to have made that happen."
Finding teachers was easier than anticipated, Britt said, but she emphasized the importance of building a pipeline of staff members, considering the school is planning to add grades each year up to eighth grade. As with all new schools, there will be hiccups along the way, Seeright and Britt acknowledged. Le Monde already overcame one potential problem.
"The kids picked their own mascot, and it came down to pickles or panthers," Britt said. "Thank God, panthers won."