Amity Scholar provides positive language and cultural experience


Senior Ives Bartel gets his essay edited by Amity Scholar Leïla Sedira Photo by Tommy Massa

Jessica Leininger

Amity Scholar Leïla Sedira looks over the railing at RHS students eating lunch in the Mall. She sees students sitting in cliques, gossiping and giggling while gnoshing on their nutritious school lunches, and is floored by how similar it looks to schools on TV. In her home country of France, lunch doesn’t look like a scene from “Mean Girls.” She shares these cultural observations with the RHS French students that she is assisting Madame Elizabeth Arcangeli in teaching. This direct connection to French culture has become an integral part of RHS French classes.

Getting Sedira here was a long process, but French teacher Madame Arcangeli believes that it was well worth it.

“It was actually a fairly complex process,” Madame Arcangeli said.  “I had to first get permission from Mr. [Charles] Rowland last year and then find different ways to fund the Amity Scholar program.  After the monies were secured, I had to file an application and conduct interviews via e-mail and Skype.”

Money was acquired through a grant process, appeals to the PTSA as well as from a donation by former principal Mr. Rowland, who was willing to fund half of the Amity Scholar program at RHS.

In France, Ms. Sedira is in her final steps of becoming an English teacher, and she decided to participate in the Amity program to see how other education systems function by becoming a part of them.

“One of the most interesting things I have seen is that students get to choose the subjects that they want to study, which makes a big difference in terms of how the students behave in class,” Ms. Sedira said. “This difference has also been one of the biggest challenges for me since teachers and students behave differently in French schools. In France you study English because you have to; in the U.S. there is more flexibility as to which language to take and when. “

These differences have been trying at times, but both students and teachers are learning from each other. Even senior and French 5 student Hunter Hansen begrudgingly accepts the changes in his French curriculum.

“We do way more work in class now,” Hansen said. “But my French is better now.”

Ms. Sedira is also figuring how to make the best of the RHS French classes, especially the 4/5 level class, which is made up of close to 40 people.

“In France I also tend to work with smaller groups of people,” Ms. Sedira said. “And the way we teach foreign languages is pretty different from RHS. I think I need a little more time to really get acclimated to the school environment but I am sure it will work out perfectly.”

Now that Ms. Sedira is here, she has become an important contributor to the RHS French program, and Madame Arcangeli is grateful to have another teacher in the classroom.

“Leïla has designed several cultural components to a variety of lessons,” Madame Arcangeli said. “Ranging from how to text in French to how to take the subway in Paris.  She has also helped tremendously with grading, which is particularly helpful at the upper-levels as students are preparing for the AP exam.”

In addition, Madame Arcangli has seen that simply having Ms. Sedira in the class is allowing for cultural osmosis that would never be able to take place otherwise.

“One of the greatest benefits to having Leïla in the classroom is seeing the personal connections she has made with students,” Madame Arcangeli said. “It’s one thing for me to tell students about various cultural aspects of Francophone life, but Leïla constantly models it for them.  She serves as an ambassador not only for France, but for Europe in general.”

As an ambassador, it seems only right that Ms. Sedira should see some of the country that she is staying in. She has been staying with the families of RHS French students, and has had the pleasure of doing some traveling during her semester here.

“I have been to downtown Detroit, NY city, Chicago and to several other places around  Rochester Hills,” Sedira said. “I have been to Canada too, in Windsor!”

She is happy to be able to see the country, the students and culture of North America.

“I had been planning for this project for many years before coming,” Ms. Sedira said. “And I really do not regret it. The experience is really worth it.”

After seeing the progress students have made in recent months, Madame Arcangeli also has high hopes for the future.

“So far this has been a tremendously rewarding experience for me, the families, the students and certainly for Leïla,” Madame Arcangeli said. “It is my hope that RHS can continue to host Amity Scholars not only in French, but in Spanish and German as well.”