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Curiosity Corner: Why Did Holliston Select French For Its Immersion Program?

by Yvette Cain
May 9, 2019

What is the reason Holliston’s Language Immersion Program selected French?

On the occasion of the 40th Anniversary of the French Immersion Program in Holliston, a reading room was recently created at Placentino School in memory of Terry Caccavale, its first French Immersion teacher.  Mention of this was made in an April HR article reporting  a School Committee meeting.   The reason for selecting French as the immersion language was incorrectly reported as Holliston’s geographic location.  Dianne Nault, one of the first-hired teachers in the Immersion program, wrote to us about the real story.  We are pleased to share it with our readers, some who may know the story, others who were “curious.”

TO:  Yvette Crain for the Holliston Reporter

RE:  Holliston French Immersion Program

Holliston’s French Immersion Program was begun because the superintendent at that time (Sam Placentino) was intrigued by a conference on Immersion education he had attended in 1978.  It was not something the townspeople had requested.  It had nothing to do with the proximity of the town to Canada or towns in RI with a significant French Canadian population.  Immersion education already existed in other school districts in the country.  Some programs were done in French, others in Spanish and still others in German.  Sam Placentino being known as a very innovative leader wanted to introduce an Immersion program and actively championed the benefits of early second language acquisition. (Soon after, Sam also proposed the start of the Montessori program in our elementary schools). 

The proposal for starting an immersion program here was met with much suspicion at first.  The citizens of Holliston worried that the program would interfere with the children’s ability to learn to read and write in English.  They were concerned that it might become an “elitist” program, admitting only the “best” students.  Parents were divided into 2 camps:  they were either wildly enthusiastic of the possibility of having their children become bi-lingual and giving them an opportunity beyond the traditional classroom experience or they were reluctant to place their young kindergarteners in a program that seemed to them to be untested and therefore experimental and “risky”. 

The hiring of Terry Caccavale as the first teacher in the program was a stroke of genius.  She alone not only championed the cause of learning a second language but she also embodied the exact traits necessary to make this new program a success.  Terry had boundless energy, an infectious personality, a sincere love of children and a creative way of reaching all learners.  The success of our World Language Programs today can be traced back to the beginning stages under the guidance and direction of Caccavale.  We were lucky to have her masterful touch right from the start.   

The reason the program chose the French language as opposed to Spanish (which people often saw as a more “practical” language) is that the French immersion programs that already existed in Plattsburgh, NY and in Canada, particularly in Montreal and in Quebec, were happy to offer us their support and to provide us with materials and resources.  Holliston kept in close touch with those educators and they helped guide us through the beginning stages of establishing an immersion program.  In addition, the French Consulate in Boston has always been an enthusiastic supporter of Holliston’s program.  They too provided guidance, materials and often came to visit our classrooms to encourage our students’ mastery of the French language.

Dianne M. Nault, FI teacher, retired

 

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Comments (1)

Holliston is so fortunate to have had an innovative leader like Sam Placentino! Terry, Diane and their French Immersion colleagues did a stellar job getting the program off the ground. Thank you !!

- Janet Stout | 5/11/19 11:26 AM

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