Vermilion Parish, Louisiana— Visitors walking through the main hallway of LeBlanc Elementary School— the first French Immersion school in Vermilion Parish— are now greeted by a giant, vibrant, globe-shaped mural, boasting colorful images of the flags of all of the French speaking countries throughout the world! It is an eye-catching creation that was recently completed by LeBlanc Elementary students and staff, as well as members of the Vermilion Parish School System and local community.

The project began when Madeline DeHart, Vermilion Parish Music/Fine Arts/French Immersion Supervisor, teamed up with Leblanc Elementary Fourth Grade teacher Shannon Vincent, to design a mural that would welcome and unite all who enter the school, while exhibiting the pride Vermilion Parish has in the French language.

“This project was a great way for students, staff and community members to leave a mark on Immersion! I hope when people see the mural, they feel a sense of belonging. Immersion has a way of cultivating inclusiveness. It opens doors for dialogues that most only dream of,” expressed DeHart.

The design features the flags of all of the French-speaking countries in the world. Mrs. Vincent carefully calculated each flag space to create a paint-by-number system with paint colors. She then drew the design on the wall, so participants would have a blueprint to work from.

“I was inspired to get involved with the French Immersion mural project when Madeline DeHart expressed that she wanted to create some sort of way to represent our French Immersion program as a school mural,” shared Vincent. “We knew we would have French Immersion teachers joining us from all over the world, and wanted to make them feel connected to their home while staying here.”

Rachelle Brown, Principal of Leblanc Elementary, expressed her enthusiasm for the mural project. “This mural gives us a sense of community and pride. It reminds us of our connection to French speaking countries,” said Brown. “It was truly a joy to see our students staff, community members and Superintendent have the opportunity to participate in this activity.”

Students worked alongside staff and community members, to slowly transform what was once a bare white wall, into an amazing display of colorful talent! Immense joy was brought to all those who witnessed the smiles on the students’ faces, as they pointed out the area they had painted. As each piece of the globe was completed, participants were elated that “their block” would be “their block” for as long as the school stands.

“I didn’t realize that students would remember exactly which spot they painted,” shared Vincent. “Many have been asked where their spot is, and they are able to point it out in five seconds or less! They are really proud that they had a chance to add something permanent to the school.”

LeBlanc Elementary is the first French Immersion school in Vermilion Parish. Their students are among nearly 100,000 students across Louisiana who study French. The school is one of the 26 French Immersion schools that exist in eight parishes. Immersion students learn French literacy, math, science and social studies in French, and English Language Arts in English.

Vermilion Parish, an area rich in Cajun and Creole history, is one of the top three Louisiana parishes, with the highest percentage of French speakers. According to the US Census, 18% of the people in Vermilion Parish are French speakers.

“When creating the design for the mural, we placed Louisiana’s flag front and center, because we want to celebrate Louisiana’s French first and foremost,” shared DeHart.

Many schools have such a positive school culture that you can see and feel, as soon as you enter the building…the walls, classrooms, staff and students, radiate that type of culture. LeBlanc Elementary fosters this very rich and positive school climate. The French Immersion mural project provided the perfect opportunity to showcase this type of culture!

“This mural marks such an important time in the history of Leblanc Elementary and in Vermilion Parish,” expressed Brown. “It represents the inception of French Immersion education, as well as the dedication of our stakeholders to preserving our French heritage.”

Traveling from her home in France, Floriane Rempp came to teach French to First Grade students at LeBlanc Elementary. She is one of the many teachers, who come from French-speaking France, Belgium, Africa, or Canada, to teach French in Louisiana schools. She shared her excitement with French Immersion, in a recent television production by France 24, an international news channel based in Paris, France, broadcasting to 355 million households around the world.

“Knowing that we have the French language in common, it brings us together…it allows us to open up to others, it’s our strength” expressed Rempp. She continued, “In a way, it unites people…it creates cultural bridges. ‘Francophonie’ is very important. It’s our heritage and our culture!”

Magali Foret, the Kindergarten French Immersion teacher who came to Leblanc Elementary from her home in Belgium, shared her thoughts of the mural. “Having a globe with all the countries’ flags where we speak French, makes me realize how much French is a language spoken in many different places around the world,” said Foret. “I think that it’s great to have the mural here, because as Principal Brown says, ‘it’s not only French Immersion that the school is embracing, but a whole culture – the Cajun culture that runs in your veins and also the Francophone culture’. It makes me feel a part of something bigger than just ‘teaching in French’,” expressed Foret.

With much gratitude, Brown expressed, “Madeline DeHart was the visionary and managed all of the processes to make this happen smoothly! Shannon, our amazing fourth grade teacher and “artist-in-residence”, did an incredible job of sketching the mural! A special thanks goes to Mr. Garrett Thomas who donated his time and materials to create the canvas for our mural!”

Originally published by KADN News 15, 3/30/21