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Bronxville Students Build Lifelong Connections With French Peers
Bronxville, NY

In an inspiring cultural exchange, the Bronxville School welcomed 23 students and two teachers from Aubenas, France, from Oct. 12-24. The dynamic French Exchange Program immerses students into the rich history, culture and customs of others from across the globe.

“Although learning French and English is the main impetus behind the program, it is so much more than that,” said Toby Gillen, a high school French teacher who organized the exchange program. “They connected almost instantly over shows, music and video games. The students on both sides started to discover they have more in common than differences, and that language learning acts as the gateway to diplomacy.”

During their stay, the French students had an unforgettable opportunity to shadow the Bronxville students and immerse themselves into American school life, attending various classes and captivating students with presentations on their cuisine, geography and history of France. The interactions weren’t limited to just the older students, as the French guests also bonded with the younger learners. They engaged in conversations with the middle and high school French classes and spent time with third graders to bolster their studies of geography and landforms.

The most remarkable aspect of the program is that it has led the Bronxville students to a yearlong collaboration with their French counterparts. Together, they are delving into climate change, invasive species and river research. Under the guidance of teacher Justine McClellan, Advanced Placement Biology students prepared special presentations for their French peers, who in turn shared insights about their local ecosystem in the Ardèche region. Teacher Steven Kovari’s Bronx River Research students collected data with the French students along the Bronx River and introduced them to their research project.

In addition, several faculty members planned different activities for the guests. The exchange students participated in a physical education class, created a journal about their trip, provided interviews for Bronco TV, and baked chocolate chip cookies and crepes in the cafeteria.

“The French Exchange program embodies everything that our Bronxville Promise stands for – taking risks; teaching our students what it means to represent your school, your state and your country; and to imagine the possibilities beyond this one-square mile,” Gillen said. “It may have looked like 12 days on a calendar, but this exchange lasts a lifetime.”

Outside of school, the guests visited the American Museum of Natural History, Ellis Island, the National September 11 Memorial and the Statue of Liberty, the United Nations, which was followed by a briefing on climate change, as well as Grand Central Station, Times Square and Wall Street. The students also enjoyed a Broadway show together. Prior to leaving Bronxville, the exchange students met with Bronxville Mayor Mary Marvin and Police Chief Christopher Satriale and toured City Hall and the police station.

“I hope that the Bronxville students learn to appreciate another way of viewing life through a different cultural lens,” Gillen said. “The tears shed as the French students boarded the bus to go to the airport just show how strong of a bond can form in just two weeks. My hope is that after we complete our homestay this spring, these students will have made a lifelong connection.”

While the exchange program has been in existence for more than 30 years, this marked Bronxville’s first exchange with Lycée Jules Froment. As part of the program, a group of Bronxville High School students will travel to France in the spring, where they will stay with host families.