Eighth Graders Conquer “Le Grand Concours”

by Mischa Antonio, French

Each year, Eighth Grade French students take part in Le Grand Concours, an annual national French contest sponsored by the American Association of Teachers of French, and this year was no different with Grace students earning accolades in the national event.

In spite of the pandemic and the difficulties it brought for students and schools, nearly 30,000 students in all 50 states competed in the 2021 event, including Grace eighth graders who did exceptionally well.

Students of French in grades 1-12, in all 50 states and abroad, take a written test and compete against students with similar educational backgrounds.

Eighth grade students participate in the contest each March. That in mind, there is no specific preparation that takes place. Instead, students continuously prepare for the test throughout their education in the French language. ‘Le Concours’ is designed to test the cumulative learning that has taken place during the years of study and the ability the students have to apply their knowledge to a variety of contexts on the spot. 

As a class we discuss the vocabulary, topics and grammar points that are likely to present themselves. But with no definitive list of prerequisites for the exam, students are very much required to demonstrate their language skills in real time and in real world situations. Students do have access to previous contest papers and so I encourage them to practice in the weeks before so that they are familiar with the format.

There are two parts to the contest : Part A is Listening Comprehension and Part B is Reading Comprehension. Students have an hour to complete the contest online, selecting the correct answers from multiple choice answers.

This year there were 2,257 students enrolled in Level 01. 521 of these students received an award. The awards are allocated for the following achievement:

  • Platinum award: Highest score in level/division (National rank 1)
  • Gold Award: Students in 95th percentile
  • Silver Award: Students in 90th or 85th percentile
  • Bronze Award: Students in 80th or 75th percentile
  • Mention d’Honneur award: Students in 70th, 65th, 60th, 55th, or 50th percentiles

Grace students did exceptionally well with four students achieving Gold Awards and two achieving Silver Awards.

Sylvie F-E, Elizabeth G., Josephine R. and Tenley S. earned Gold Awards and Juliette R. and Javier C. earned Silver Awards.

Students pose with their award certificates

In the New York Metropolitan Division, only eight Silver and 8 Gold Awards were awarded in their level; Grace Students made up over one third of the recipients. 

At the end of 8th grade students achieve a very high level of French at Grace and are able to communicate very effectively in written and spoken French. They demonstrate excellent comprehension skills and a considerable knowledge of Francophone culture and language. 

Grace language students leave Middle School as competent and confident linguists who continue their language journeys in High School and achieve excellent results.

I am very proud of the work the students do at Grace and I am constantly impressed by their achievements.

I would like to congratulate this year’s Eighth graders on their success in the most difficult of years, and I look forward to working with the new 8th graders next year!

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¡Felíz día de la Batalla de Puebla!

By Leslie Peña, Spanish

Growing up in Mexico, Cinco de Mayo was something we learned about in history class…the day when the Mexican army, against all odds, defeated the French in the city of Puebla in 1862.

In the early 1860s, Mexico owed a significant debt to France. Napoleon III, sent troops to overtake Mexico City. On their way to Mexico City, they had to go through the city of Puebla. 

When General Charles Latrille de Lorencez’s 6,000 troops of French soldiers met General Ignacio Zaragoza’s Mexican troops, Zaragoza’s smaller and less equipped Mexican army held off French troops in the Battle of Puebla.

I do not remember it being a special celebration or festive day. We did not even get to miss school and all businesses were open, since it is not an official holiday.

This holiday is mainly celebrated in the city Puebla, and only in a few other places in the country where military parades take place but not parties or festivities.

Often in the U.S. I have encountered people wishing me Happy Independence Day on Cinco de Mayo. Mexican Independence is on September 16th and that is indeed a huge celebration!

What I have learned since moving to the U.S. is that the hispanics and Mexican Americans adopted Cinco de Mayo as their own holiday instead of Mexican Independence. This goes back to when the news of the Battle of Puebla reached California Latinos, especially residents of Hispanic origin, who were glad for the failure of the French plan to help the Confederacy.

Nowadays, it has still become a fun thing to do to get together with my Mexican friends and enjoy our favorite treats on this day since it is such a huge celebration in the U.S.

In my Spanish classes, I have been using this opportunity every year to explain the difference between Cinco de Mayo, or as we call it in Mexico: “The Day of the Battle of Puebla” and Mexican Independence day on September 16th when Mexico became independent from Spain.

On Mexican Independence in September we get to see in class when the Mexican president relives the chant for Independence (el grito de Dolores) from the presidential balcony facing the crowd.

This year at Grace, we went over all of these historic facts and cleared some of the common misconceptions. We had a competitive game of accurately labeling the historic facts and main historic figures as well as a puzzle. The winners who completed this correctly got to take home a “make your own conchas” kit by La Newyorkina’s Mexico city born Chef Fany Gerson. 

The winners of the make your own conchas kit were eighth graders Nate B., Estelle V. and Clara T. and sixth graders Ava C. (remote) and Nina F.

Nate B. Holding his Prize

Everyone in my Spanish class got to taste three different traditional Mexican pastries: orejas, garibaldis and conchas. Due to covid some of our traditional celebrations, such as a “papel picado” workshop and a conchas baking class have been postponed but are still in the works for later this month.

¡Felíz día de la Batalla de Puebla!

Links:

Fany Gerson’s Concha Baking Class Video

La Newyorkina’s Concha Recipe

Papel Picado How to Video

A Día de los Muertos for the Digital Age

By Leslie Peña, Spanish Teacher

Growing up in México, I remember working on colorful altars adorned with picture frames, candles, incense, marigolds, food, and a flower petal path to lead the dead to their altar every early November in school. The best Day of the Dead celebrations and decorations I have encountered have been in México City. Women dress up as “Catrinas” with elaborate flower headbands, face paint and traditional Mexican dresses and there is always a beautiful parade. Every store, restaurant, hotel and coffee shop has their own altar, each one uniquely vivid and ornate.

The day of the dead celebration dates back to the Aztecs, when it was believed that the deceased embarked on a journey, the destination the place where they could finally rest in peace. On November 1st and 2nd in México, cemeteries are filled with music, food, candles and flowers. It is not a sad time, but rather a celebration of life! People gather around their loved ones’ tombs and bring them their favorite food.

Every year at Grace, we try to bring a bit of México into our Spanish class, learning about the traditional Day of the Dead. In the past, students have made their own altars at home. We have also visited New York-based cultural non-profit Mano a Mano to view their altar and participate in their celebration at St. Mark’s Church, where they would learn the history and try authentic Méxican food.

As this year is unprecedented, we could not celebrate in our usual ways. Luckily, on Monday October 26, El Museo del Barrio offered a day of the dead bread cooking class over zoom through their new bilingual digital initiative El Museo en Tu Casa. This class was offered by one of my favorite Méxican chefs, Fany Gerson, who the 8th graders had the opportunity of meeting in 6th grade when we visited her Méxican dessert shop “La Newyorkina” for a Spanish class field trip where she talked to them about traditional Mexican ingredients and desserts.

Fany Gerson, has been featured in the New York Times, Food and Wine, Fine Cooking, Saveur Magazine, Fine Cooking, Fast Company and New York magazines, among others. She is the owner of La Newyorkina Mexican dessert shop in West Village. She has written three books, My Sweet Mexico, which was nominated for a James beard award 2010 for Best baking and pastry cookbook Paletas and Mexican Ice Cream. She was a mentor in the WE NYC Women’s leadership program in 2016 and recognized as a Latin woman leader in 2017 by El Diario.

As a tasty supplement to our cultural lessons, we also celebrated in Spanish class by tasting traditional Day of the Dead bread from authentic Méxican NYC bakeries Panaderia 2D and La NewYorkina.

There are many different traditional sweet breads made for this celebration. Some are sculpted into shapes of flowers, the Virgin Mary, skulls or animals. Some are topped with sesame seeds and colorful head figurines. Most have a sugar topping and are infused with orange.

The students learned how to make this bread decorated with “sugar bones” and took a moment to remember the life of those who are no lo no longer with us.

!Feliz Día de Muertos!

Bon Appétit! French Baking Inspires French Students

By Sylvie Larue, Middle School French Teacher

 I knew long before Spring Break that I would teach 6th grade French and replace Ms. Antonio who had a beautiful baby girl in March. Before she left to take care of her family, she told me that I had to teach two units about food and the city of Paris. In front of my computer during the vacations, I wrote a curriculum about how to order food at a restaurant and eventually found a dialogue online. The students learned the vocabulary, listened to pronunciations and intonations, and practiced reading the dialogue in our Zoom class. I prepared a slideshow with all the delicious food that the “customer” in the dialogue was ordering: Salade au chèvre chaud (goat cheese salad), boeuf bourguignon and tarte Tatin

Tarte Tatin is a specialty from the Center-Val de Loire region of France. It was accidentally created by two sisters, Stephanie and Caroline Tatin. Students were challenged to find out what had happened. We laughed a lot imagining what could have happened in that kitchen in the 1880s. Finally, students got it: the pie became an upside down tart because the chef had placed the tart in the oven the wrong way! To finish the class, we watched a cooking video to learn how to make this fabulous desert. Nothing else was expected. It was about sharing a good time together on Zoom. I posted the video on Gracenet and to my surprise the next day, Charlie had baked. On the weekend, I received photos and emails from Chloe, Bo, Olivia, Thea, Felix, Lulu…it was truly a treat. The video and  the lesson had inspired them. They took charge of their learning experience, they were curious about the French gastronomy, some used their French writing skills to write a critic about the tart: They made a French teacher’s dream come true!

Check out this recipe from PBS to make your very own tarte tatin, and check out the slideshow below to see all of the students’ tasty tarts!

Mandarin Students Learn in New Environment: The Kitchen

Before Spring break, students in Ms. Chien’s Mandarin V class were busy discussing their favorite fast and comfort foods as a way of practicing the culinary-centric vocabulary they had been studying. Once Grace’s Distance Learning plan commenced on March 30, the conversations they were having, and the way Ms. Chien was teaching, suddenly shifted.

So far, distance teaching, in Ms. Chien’s case, has provided its own set of challenges; Ms. Chien noted that she often finds herself “hopping around the breakout rooms.” More importantly, teaching via Zoom has provided her with plenty of new teaching opportunities, such as introducing a new setting to her students: her kitchen.

In this new environment, Ms. Chien is not only able to teach them new vocabulary, but is able to use it in actual conversation, talking them through the preparation of some of her favorite noodle dishes. Of teaching from home, Ms. Chien said, “It’s actually a luxury to have all the props within a step. I can show them everything easily. They get to see the authentic materials. I think it’s a benefit of online learning.”

Using her cooking demonstrations as inspiration, students have been tasked to make cooking shows of their own. Each student will have to film a segment of them cooking the very comfort foods they discussed before Distance Learning began. And they will have to narrate it entirely in Mandarin. “I look forward to having them put their various language skills in one project: writing/ typing while writing their plots and scripts, speaking, reading, and listening while we did a rehearsal on Zoom.” Ms. Chien said.

She also noted that, while the project would center around the practice of a foreign language, it will, overall, be a holistic learning experience. “Students will integrate their skills in theater such as staging, public speaking, acting, and looking at camera, and in technology by editing the movie and making sure the subtitles match what they are saying.” Ms. Chien added, “The language component does not have to be 100% perfect, as long as it conveys the meaning and shows their passion of the language and the dishes they make.”