Bilingual school celebrates 20 years

The San Diego French-American School celebrated its 20th anniversary on May 2, commemorating the milestone with the school’s annual fund-raiser.

The May 3 “A Night to Remember -

Vingt Ans Après”

gala was held at La Jolla Torrey Pines Hilton. Proceeds from an opportunity drawing for more than 40 bottles of wine and silent auction will be used to purchase educational materials and upgrade the library.

In the last two decades, Andres and Chandra Bordés have seen their dream evolve from a home preschool into a campus with more than 250 pre-K to eighth-grade students.

“From the start, we wanted the school to be bilingual,” Bordés said.

Drawing on his own experience as a credentialed teacher, Bordés and his wife took on five preschoolers. In 1990, their “school” was accredited by the French government. Accreditation from the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) came in 1993.

One of the primary challenges for Bordes was finding a permanent site for the school. Students have attended locations in Clairemont Mesa, Encinitas, Coronado and Bay Park. In 2006, school officials obtained a 10-year lease for its current site at 6550 Soledad Mountain Road.

The campus opened with 158 students. Bordes expects enrollment to approach 300 next September.

Bordés said he started the school for several reasons.

“First of all, because I’m a teacher and San Diego didn’t have any international or French school,” he said. “The third reason is I believe in bilingual education.”

San Diego French-American School is a two-way, dual-language immersion school. The curriculum is based on standards from both French and American education systems and also incorporates cultural learning.

Some classes, such as science and geography, are easier to combine. Math is more complicated: French students learn measurements in metrics, a system not utilized by Americans.

Cultural differences also influence how students learn and interact. For example, autonomy and independence are highly encouraged by the French. One of the school’s chief goals is to encourage children to learn and think on their own, Bordés said.

Students represent more than 30 nationalities, a dynamic that teaches children about global awareness and diversity.

Until 2007, students entering beyond the first grade were required to have a basic understanding of both English and French.

“We’ve established a system of French as a Second Language,” Bordés said, which enabled the school to accept students with no previous exposure to the foreign language. “We do the same thing for non-English speaking students.”

With support from a dedicated FASL teacher and a specialized program, older students can now achieve success in the dual-language learning environment.

While celebrating their past, the school is looking ahead to the future. The board plans to evaluate the possibility of adding high school-level classes. They are also considering the possibility of opening one or two other preschools in San Diego.

“At this location we are in, we calculated we can go up to 400 students,” Bordés said. “It has always been the plan to got to the full 12 grades.”

Given another 20 years, Bordés said he would like to see a French-American high school established and the school to actually own its facilities. Most important is staying true to the program’s core philosophy.

Bordés said his daughter, 21, is a perfect example of how bilingual education benefits students. She has already completed a four-year degree at the Sorbonne and now plans to complete a second degree at UCSD. Fluent in French, Spanish and English, she will tackle mastery of a fourth language.

Her international education at SDFAS has prepared her to go anywhere and succeed, Bordés said.