Real Schools – Lyceé Francais New York
Lyceé Francais – Innovation With Parent Engagement
By Rose Nisker
The Lyceé Francais de New York (LFNY) is an independent bilingual school for students from pre-kindergarten to twelfth grade. Founded in 1935 by Comte Charles de Ferry de Fontnouvelle, then French Consul General in New York, the school follows the academic curriculum established by the French National Ministry of Education, while incorporating aspects of the American educational system. LFNY’s single building campus is located on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, occupying a full city block in one of the country’s most expensive neighborhoods. With 1,367 students representing 45 nationalities, LFNY has a distinctly international feel. Its bilingual environment is bolstered by a student body comprised of one-third French citizens and another third made up of French-American dual-citizens. A central part of the school’s stated purpose is to provide teaching methods that “reflect both the French standards of intellectual rigor and the American traditions of pragmatism, positive reinforcement, initiative, and creativity.”
LYCEÉ FRANCAIS DE NEW YORK AND RULER
In 2013, Director of Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence and RULER co-creator Dr. Marc Brackett visited Anne Harlam’s pre-k classroom at LFNY. The students were eager to share the many RULER-based projects they had been developing all year, including their classroom Mood Meter. When Brackett asked the students to report on their emotional state, a little girl raised her hand enthusiastically. “I’m in the yellow!” she declared. When asked why, she responded, “Because the Mood Meter man is here!!”
The little girl in Harlam’s class isn’t the only RULER enthusiast at LFNY– the Head of Primary School, Vannina Boussouf, is also a fan. Boussouf was first introduced to RULER 3 years ago through a webinar program with Dr. Brackett. She was looking for a social and emotional learning program that would fit her school’s unique bilingual, international environment. “We are not only bilingual, we are bicultural,” Boussouf explains emphatically. “We needed a program that our teachers could translate and adapt for the cultural backgrounds at our school.”
She knew that anything with a rigid format and highly circumscribed materials wasn’t going to fly, especially with the French team of teachers and administrators at LFNY. “Many social and emotional learning programs have a very American spirit,” she says with a chuckle. “It can come across as too positive or artificial for those coming from a French background.” Boussouf felt that the flexibility of the RULER program was ideal for both her French and American teaching and administrative teams. “RULER presented a framework with very versatile tools which we could take and alter to fit our school.”
Excited by the webinar, Boussouf encouraged 3 LFNY teachers to attend the RULER training, each one representing a different Primary School grade-level and language specialty– Pre-K English teacher Anne Harlam; Veronica McGivney Park, a bilingual 1st grade teacher who heads the English program in the Primary School, and Daphnee Marchini, a bilingual 5th grade teacher with a French emphasis. “We wanted them to be able to come back and train all of our teachers, administrators and parents,” says Boussouf.
Boussouf also encouraged the PTA to bring Dr. Brackett to speak to LFNY parents. The packed event was a compelling introduction to the program, and parents were eager to participate in follow-up RULER trainings led by Harlam, Marchini and McGivney Park.
For LFNY’s bilingual community, the RULER-trained teachers report that even just the act of translating the RULER materials into French has been beneficial in inspiring social and emotional awareness. When 5th grade teacher Marchini was translating some of the words for the Mood Meter, it became clear that there were cultural differences as to where certain words would be placed. “For an American, the word “excited” would go in the yellow, but translated to French it has a more negative feeling, more along the lines of ‘agitated,’” Marchini explains. Pre-k teacher Harlam agrees, “The translation process really opened up a conversation about the different cultural values we place on certain words.”
RULER’s emphasis on language development, the ‘you name it, you tame it’ approach, fits well with LFNY’s bilingual culture. “You’re more conscious of the strong language component in social and emotional learning when you’re working with students who aren’t necessarily fluent in the language you’re teaching in,” explains Harlam. She says RULER’s focus on learning the words that students need to express their feelings has been a powerful tool both for her students, and for her, as well. “I had one child who was extremely verbal in French, very talkative, engaged and well-behaved but in English he would shut down and start acting out.” The child’s behavior got especially bad during story time. Then one day, he stood up and did his best to put his new Mood Meter vocabulary to use, declaring “I’m frustrate.”
“It was an ‘Aha’ moment for both of us,” Harlam recalls. “After the students started learning about the Mood Meter, in that one word he was able to step over a big hurdle of self-expression, and remind me to stop focusing on the fact that he’s disrupting the story and instead focus on the fact that he’s frustrated that he can’t understand the English words.” Harlam says RULER addresses the challenges of being in a bilingual learning environment quite explicitly. “You’re teaching the students the most empowering, important words to express themselves.”
“We are already very language-focused as the students are developing fluency in both French and English, “ explains Boussouf. “RULER develops fluency in the language of emotion.”
With over a 1000 students, 144 teachers and 86 staff members, incorporating RULER into LFNY’s school culture isn’t going to happen overnight, but the 3 original RULER-trained teachers and Boussouf are actively working to move the process along. “We are training everyone,” says Boussouf. “The parents, the lunch monitors, the administrative assistants, everyone in our community.”
ENGAGING FAMILIES IN RULER – A PICTURE IS WORTH A THOUSAND WORDS
When Harlam was ready to introduce RULER to the parents of her pre-k class, she wanted to grab their attention. She knew the information was compelling but wondered how to get them as excited as she was about the program. Her brilliantly simple play to get parents engaged? Use photos of their own children in her presentation about RULER. It was no surprise that the parents were thoroughly captivated as they watched photos of their children demonstrating different facial expressions associated with emotions, mapping their feelings on the classroom Mood Meter, and drawing portraits of themselves in each quadrant.
“You could hear the excitement in the room when the parents would see a picture of their kid making the ‘angry face’ or the ‘enthusiastic face,’” Harlam explains. “It really got them interested in the work the kids were doing with RULER.
While parent workshops provide a more formal introduction to RULER, any parent who steps into Harlam’s classroom can see the creative ways the students are using RULER to develop their social and emotional intelligence. RULER-based projects and artwork decorate the room. Hanging along a beam on the ceiling are the students’ “Super Me” capes– Harlam took the concept of the Meta Moment and “best self,” and had the students make superhero characters with the qualities of their “best selves.” The capes represent these “Super Me” characters. There’s also a large Mood Meter where the students can map themselves anytime during the day. Every morning, when parents accompany their children to sign into class, instead of just checking their name off a list, the children themselves place their name on the Mood Meter.
Harlam says the morning Mood Meter check-in has proven to be an effective way for both children and parents to take a moment to recognize their emotional state. “A child will put themselves in the green and the parent will think ‘that’s interesting you’re in the green, you were just screaming at me in the car,’” Harlam says with a smile.
While parents of older students don’t have a morning class check-in, 5th grade teacher Marchini has found that they are still quite engaged with their kids’ RULER work. Marchini leads the LFNY parent workshops for 4th and higher grade levels, and says the parents are eager to learn. “Especially the ones with teenagers,” she says, knowingly. Marchini has even had some parents contact her to talk further about how they can incorporate RULER-based activities into their families’ lives. “Even if parents are first thinking about behavior tools, once we do the workshops, they really see how RULER is actually a connection tool and gives them ways to talk with their kids.”
LFNY’s RULER-trained team continues to seek new ways to integrate the program into the lives of the students both at school and at home. Boussouf is currently adding RULER skills to the report cards for next year in order to evaluate the success of the program. “This will also help parents gauge how their children are doing, and emphasize how important this work is in our students’ lives.”