Florence Fomuso, a kindergarten teacher at Robert Goddard French Immersion School in Lanham, ran around the desks and chairs in Room 117 before she asked her students, “Comment Papa Tortue court? Lentement ou rapide?”
Sydney Patterson, 5, quickly raised her hand. She knew how Papa Turtle runs. She shouted “Lentement!” Translation: “Slowly.”
Then Sydney was told (in French) to demonstrate how the turtle would run. She leisurely made her way around the desks.
In kindergarten classes at Robert Goddard, children are answering in French to their French-speaking teachers. Seventh-graders are learning college-level words in French that will appear on college-entrance exams in English.
Many students and staff members believe it is the school’s unique programming that led to Robert Goddard being recognized last week by the Maryland State Education Department with the state’s Blue Ribbon award for exemplary performance.
Many of the 578 students at Robert Goddard receive top honors in numerous programs, including ones run by the French Education Ministry and the National Science Bowl. More than 94 percent of the students were proficient in math and 95 percent were proficient in reading in 2013.
Principal Nasser Abi said he was happy to see the school, which has consistently been a top performer in the county, getting recognition.
“I was very excited, because at one point I thought we were forgotten,” said Abi, who started working at the school 16 years ago as a first-grade teacher.
The students were thrilled to hear the news when Abi announced it over the loudspeaker Wednesday.
“Everybody was jumping up and down,” said Jodi Evans, 10, a fifth-
grader from Bowie. “Our teachers push us so hard so we can have a good education. . . . I knew our school would be in the top.”
Robert Goddard and the five other schools that received the Maryland distinction are now eligible to compete for the National Blue Ribbon award, given by the federal Education Department.
“I am extremely proud of the students and staff at Robert Goddard French Immersion for their achievement and the hard work they have done to earn it,” Kevin M. Maxwell, chief executive of Prince George’s County Public Schools, said in a statement. “The Blue Ribbon Award is one of the highest honors a school can receive, and it indicates that everything is in place to ensure student achievement: outstanding leadership, effective instruction, ongoing professional development and strong partnerships with parents and the community.”
Montgomery County’s Cashell Elementary School, in Rockville, was the only other Washington area school to receive the Maryland distinction.
“It’s rare that I’m left speechless,” Maureen Ahern-Stamoulis, Cashell’s principal, said. “To be one of six schools chosen is an honor.”
The other winners were Frost Elementary in Allegany County, Linthicum Elementary in Anne Arundel County, Western School of Technology and Environmental Science in Baltimore County and Northern Garrett High in Garrett County.
Robert Goddard’s French immersion program began in 1985. The school, which shares a building with a Montessori school with the same name, is the second-oldest total immersion school in the country.
Walk into a kindergarten class, and the only language spoken by the teacher is French. Fomuso might use real objects or pantomime, but she does not speak in English, said Martha Kristy, the school’s instructional program coordinator.
Students might whisper in English, but by the middle of their first-grade year, students are not supposed to speak in English at all during class, Kristy said.