Marc Mallet and Cynthia Mot were French teachers who worked in the same department at the Lovett School in north Atlanta when they first became aware that there was a demand for both French language instruction and exposure to French culture that went beyond what local schools were offering.
Ms. Mot had held an administrative position at the International Education Systems school (IES) on Chamblee-Tucker Road in DeKalb County where most of the students were either first generation Korean-Americans or Koreans.
Through this exposure, she realized the potential for cross-cultural education. “I saw what was possible with a small group,” she told Global Atlanta.
Mr. Mallet recalled for Global Atlanta that before the school was launched in 2002 he had received a call from a professor at the University of Georgia who was French and wanted his son to be exposed to French and French culture.
“There is a large number of people who are curious to discover the French culture and language,” he said, especially in families where one member is French who wants their children to be exposed to their heritage.
Recognizing the demand, however, was only the beginning of creating a foundation for the Ecole du Samedi or in English, the Saturday School.
First Georges Hoffmann, an Atlanta-based attorney who serves as the honorary consul of Luxembourg, registered the school as a non-profit.
Then Mr. Mallet and Ms. Mot turned to France’s consulate general for support and were assisted by Karine Larcher and Cecile Peyronnet, who were there at the time as cultural attaches.
Mr. Mallet and Ms. Mot also studied the success of the German School of Atlanta, which began in 1983. “I am a great believer in reverse engineering,” Mr. Mallet said. “When something is working well, I have no hesitation in adopting what’s good.”
The German model of providing a genuine German environment with native speaker teachers in small classes from pre-kindergarten through adult levels looked like the way to go.
They also liked the German school’s tracking of instruction experienced by German students in Germany. Today in the French school’s “native track,” for students who are immersed in French-only classes use the textbooks approved by the French ministry of education.
Students in the non-native learning track use French books geared toward teaching French as a foreign language.
Once the school’s programs came into focus, it was important to get a supportive board of directors. Already they had the support of the French consulate.
To supplement that support, they asked Claude Wegscheider who was the longstanding director of the Alliance Francaise d’Atlanta to help get the word out.
They also had to find a location and settled on the Powers Ferry United Methodist church in Marietta with 60 students and nine teachers. Within a year, however, they had outgrown this facility and moved to the campus of Oakwood High School in West Cobb where it stayed for the following three years.
The next move was prompted by the recognition that they had to be more centrally located and in the fall of 2006 moved onto the campus of the Atlanta International School with the Saturday School’s enrollment reaching 182 students in 2014-15 and 17 teachers.
Mr. Mallet said he considers this location, which during the week has more than 1,600 students following international programs, ideal.
A year after the school’s founding Ms. Mot moved on to other pursuits, but Mr. Mallet said that he was able to continue the school’s development with the help of Claire Schlumberger who for 10 years helped keep order as the student body, staff and curriculum continued to grow.
Today Mr. Mallet is struck by the school’s diversity with students coming from families with origins around the world including Africa, the Americas, Asia and Europe.
A prime example is Valerie Ogletree, the 10-year-old daughter of David Ogletree and Evelyn Penaranda, who already speaks commendable French and English in addition to her native Spanish.
Born in Costa Rica to an American father, who is involved in Costa Rican real estate and owns an industrial painting firm in Atlanta, and a Costa Rican mother, she went to a French school while growing up and learned both English and Spanish at home.
She is going to the Saturday School to keep up her French while also studying at home both Mandarin and Italian over the Internet in addition to completing her school work at the Garden Hills Elementary School in Buckhead.
Her mother’s comment to Global Atlanta that Valerie likes learning foreign languages seems somewhat understated, but in keeping with the varied backgrounds of the school’s students.
“French certainly is not dead,” Mr. Mallet said. “What we have is a growing awareness of francophonie.”
The International Organisation of La Francophonie was created in 1970 with the mission of developing solidarity among its 80 member states and the more than 220 million French speakers.
The school’s future, Mr. Mallet added, is to tap more deeply into the globally broad-based experience of French speakers around the world through projects, stories and activities.
The teachers also have diverse backgrounds, he said, and share with their students their native cultures and encourage children to do the same with their classmates.
In the dozen years since the school’s start, Mr. Mallet said that he has notice a change in the perception of French culture.
When the school opened, he said, there as a certain “glamorous image” of studying France and its cultural roots regarding liberty and freedom.
But today there is a greater focus, he added, as a means of learning about the world more generally.