Oct 16th, 2019, 03:43 PM

FirstBridge, Second Language

By Lydia Wiernik
An elementary-level UPE2A. Image credit: Hugo-Sébastien Aubert, La Presse
How The UPE2A Program is Uniting AUP Students and Refugees

Each week, eight AUP freshmen venture outside Paris to help teach refugee children French and English. 

Previously known as classe d’accueil, the program, UPE2A (unité pédagogique pour élèves allophones arrivants), places migrant students from all over the world into classrooms in France. They speak little, if any, French. 

FirstBridge is AUP's first-year interdisciplinary program. The students of FirstBridge 5 (Migration of Film & Language) collaborated with UPE2A through Dominique Levet. Mr. Levet organizes programs within UPE2A and works with dedicated teachers willing to devote their time to demanding work. 

Professor Rebekah Rast, who teaches the linguistics component of the FirstBridge, asked her students if they were interested in UPE2A. The response was an almost unanimous yes. 

As bilinguals themselves, many students wanted to participate. This commonality bridged the gap between AUP students and UPE2A students from countries like the Philippines or Romania. They all had experienced the uncertainty of speaking a foreign tongue.

Motse Kuswani, an International Economics major born in Botswana, travels an hour on Wednesday mornings to Collège Timbaud in Bobigny, on the outskirts of Paris. His day begins at 9am. He visits an English class, a French class, and a music class. After aiding and observing, he returns to AUP at noon.

“I moved to New York when I was really young. It was this drastic change in my life and it took some adjusting….I can still relate to some of the fears and challenges of the children in the UPE2As."

In the few hours they spend at their schools, the AUP students experience just how challenging the work can be. 

“There's a bit of a language barrier,” Kuswani says. Especially with the students whose French is limited, it can be a challenge to quickly create a solution for mutual understanding. 

A map showing Bobigny, where Collège Timbaud is located, in relation to Paris. Image credit: RTL France.

The permanent school teachers, who spend up to eight hours a day with the UPE2A children, are deserving of the utmost respect. Younger students can get especially frustrated and sometimes physical. Classes easily become rambunctious, with half a dozen languages spoken at once. 

But the rewards greatly outweigh the infrequent hiccups. 

“The kids are curious and they are proud when they get things right in their work,” Kuswani says. 

Maddi Carpenter-Crawford is another AUP student who has been helping with the UPE2A at Collège Politzer. Carpenter-Crawford double majors in International and Comparative Politics and Journalism. She is passionate about education as a human right. 

“It's especially interesting in light of the situation at the southern border where kids traveling alone are being labeled adults so the French government can deny them protections they're required to give,” Carpenter-Crawford says. “These are those kids in the UPE2A. It's meaningful to see what happens when we do better for them.” 

Teaching in these settings requires thinking on one’s feet. Carpenter-Crawford shares that she was asked to run a short English vocabulary lesson. “We made [the lesson] about what the kids like to do...and they seemed to find it really fun.” 

Originally, the collaboration between Mr. Levet and Professor Rast’s FirstBridge was a three-session timeline. But many students are extending their stays, finding deep connections with the work and children.

“I felt like I got a real, albeit small insight into life in those places and the kids interests,” Carpenter-Crawford says. “The experience has been eye-opening and has guided a little bit the purpose I'm developing in what I want to do in life.” 

The program is on-going. Foreign students are steadily entering France and being placed into UPE2A classrooms. Anyone can (and should) get involved! If you are interested, contact Professor Rebekah Rast (rrast@aup.edu) for more information.