Sonoma Charter hosts special visitors from France
Clockwise from bottom left: Sydney Gamble, Kaitlynn Winslow, Esmeralda Oras, Odile Deroin (visiting teacher), Rachel Jensen, Sara Steinmetz, Ashlynn Armitage, Charlie Giller, Cooper Anast, Alex Hipkiss, Michael Dewitt, Gabriel Lacagnina, Zack Yankee, Jean-Michel (Odile’s husband), Jake Brown, Nathaniel Szakallas, Rylan Pine.
Last month, Sonoma Charter School had some special visitors who came all the way from Magnac-sur-Touvre, France, to visit with Julie MacDonald’s first- and second-grade classroom. It was a special trip taken by newly retired teacher Odile Deroin, and her husband, Jean-Michel, to visit with the teacher, school and classroom that she and her classes had been exchanging letters with as part of a pen-pal program that started three years ago.
The students in Room 10 had a special treat with Deroin in their classroom during her stay in Sonoma. Not only is she a retired teacher, but she is also a singer, songwriter, author, pianist and painter. During the visit, they got an opportunity to learn about France, the French language and gained a firsthand perspective of another culture.
Among the first- and second-graders in MacDonald’s class, there was a clear enthusiasm about the special visit. Prior to Deroin’s arrival, the students learned how to say “Welcome to Room 10” in French, and they decorated hot air balloons (since hot air balloons were invented in France) with messages for Deroin. One of the messages read, “Dear Mrs. Deroin, Thank you for crossing the ocean just to see us. Love Ella.”
Many of the kids said their favorite part of the visit was learning all of their names in French. Some names changed quite a bit, others were the same. The kids were impressed with Deroin’s children’s books, which she read to the class. She also left some books with the classroom to keep. Some of the kids remembered the names of the songs they sang: “Across the Wide Ocean” and “Hooray for the World.”
When asked if they learned how far away France is, or how one would get to France, the kids were able to explain that France was across the ocean, and, after some debate, agreed it was the Atlantic Ocean. The students then thought of getting out the globe in class, which calculates how far away things are based on two points, and the kids used it to figure out that France is 5,672 miles away and 10 hours, 30 minutes by plane.
The students also mentioned some of their own ties to France and French culture: the mother of one of the students was born in France, some had French speakers in their family, and many were able to name a variety of French foods that they enjoyed. They were able to identify many things that America has in common with France – among them were planes, trucks, flowers, and water – and when asked about differences, they said that the food and people’s names were different. Most of the kids, when asked, said enthusiastically that they wanted to visit France one day. The number-one reason they said they wanted to visit was to go to the chocolate factories. Go figure.
The pen-pal program between McDonald’s class in Sonoma and Deroin’s class in Magnac-sur-Touvre was started in 2009 when two parents at SCS suggested there might be an opportunity by searching the Website, studentsoftheworld.com. Through the site, they found the class led by Deroin, and the students in MacDonald’s first- and second-grade class exchanged letters and gifts in the 2009-10 and 2010-11 school years. Now that Deroin has retired, she has given MacDonald the name of another teacher, who has a classroom in a town near the coast of France, who would like to continue the pen-pal exchange program. The kids will likely begin exchanges later this year.
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Kathy Pine is the Sonoma Charter School PTO president.