On parle francais! This is an important phrase for 60 Virginia high school students at the Virginia Governor’s French Immersion Academy at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia. From June 25th until July 17, the French Academy’s students will live their lives completely in French to boost their abilities to use the language. Clarke County’s own rising senior Conor Mettenburg was among those who arrived in Lexington to participate in the innovative foreign language program. After pledging to speak French exclusively, he and his fellow students will eat, sleep, and breathe francais for the duration of the three week academy.
The Governor’s Foreign Language Academies originated in 1986 with a request from a member of the Virginia Board of Education to prepare a proposal for a “demonstration and exemplary project” in foreign language education. As a result, the Virginia Department of Education sponsors five Governor’s Foreign Language Academies each summer where students are nurtured and language skills are cultivated.
The French Academy was the very first Virginia Governor’s Foreign Language Academy to be established and celebrated its 25th anniversary last summer. Since 1986, nearly 1,500 students have successfully completed the Governor’s French Academy.
While the academy features advanced classroom studies the experience is designed to immerse students in the language studies by including a full schedule of activities including, concerts, films, and cooking. Students, writing and photography skills are also developed through journals, a yearbook, videos, and production of weekly newspapers. All activities are hands-on, real-life situations, making language acquisition meaningful, practical, and lasting.
Conor Mettenburg, son of Mr. and Mrs. David Mettenburg, learned of his selection to the academy while he was attending Boy’s State at Liberty University, in Lynchburg, Virginia. His selection meant Conor would have to go straight from Boy’s State in Lynchburg to the Governor’s Foreign Language Academy in Lexington. However, the rewards for such a hectic summer will last a lifetime. The Academy represents a unique opportunity for students, one that alumni describe as unforgettable and among the best experiences of their lives.