French students from Seven Oaks Classical School had the opportunity to participate in a statewide French language and culture competition called “Le Congres.” At this annual event, students test their skill in knowledge-based contests such as vocabulary, history, and geography questionnaires as well as their oral production of the language in reading previously unseen texts aloud and describing pictures they’d never seen before in language. Students may also participate in artistic, prepared contests, presenting original skits, posters, and song or dance performance. The competition truly tests students in the many facets of what it means to master a language.
In the first year Seven Oaks participated, from our 8th-12th grade classes, we had 16 students volunteer to attend and compete. We left school early Saturday morning to drive to the contest. My two French teaching colleagues and myself were judging at the event and left the students early in the day with the parent chaperones to get our own instructions and carry out our duties. Judging throughout the day, I had the pleasure of seeing the skill of other students at the same French II level I teach every day at Seven Oaks. I saw some excellent scholars of French and some that still required more study to achieve their full potential, reflecting a similar diversity in language mastery I see in my own classroom.
Throughout the day, the students found their way to various rounds of competition and spent their down time munching on snacks and working on a school poster, as instructed. I checked in on the students during my breaks where they congregated. They indicated everything was going smoothly, shared how their events went, and chatted with each other. As the results of the contests were posted throughout the day, our students began to place in various contests and, in passing, I heard the students congratulate one another and boast their friends’ successes to me. At the closing ceremonies, our students cheered the loudest whenever any one among them was announced a winner.
On the way home, my colleagues and I reflected on the day in the car. One reflected to me that she noticed our students seemed to take the day more seriously than some others. I could only agree. Students put forth their best efforts at each round, sharing details of the questions they confidently answered and those they weren’t sure about that they wanted to know the correct response to. As I checked in throughout the day, I also had no concerns about the comportment of my students. They were respectful to one another and showed great sportsmanship, even if their classmates won more prizes than they. Despite the fact that their participation in this competition was not required at all and the freedom students had throughout the day, I didn’t worry about them.
In fact, I was proud of these students and the education our school provides them. Yes, I hope that my French teaching helped them succeed in the contests, but I know that their Latin skill and their history courses certainly helped them in the vocabulary and cultural competitions. The artistic performances and works certainly were influenced by the art classes the students have taken over the years. But, perhaps more importantly, I know that the way they learn every day prepares them to represent our school well, as self-disciplined, courteous, and passionate young scholars. The classical education these students receive infuses in them a desire to take advantage of every opportunity to learn and behave in a manner that says they value their learning and those they learn with. I take pride in what the students demonstrated at Le Congres, because I know that I’m part of an institution that is forming the sort of people I know will do good for the communities they serve.
Needless to say, the French department will compete again next year. And I have every confidence my students will impress me again. They always do.