POINTE-AUX-CHENES, La. (BRPROUD) – Down the bayou, a new school is looking to preserve Cajun and Indian French. Ecole Pointe-au-Chien opened its doors to the inaugural class in August.
Cajun and Indian French used to flit between people through the streets of southern Terrebonne Parish. Older generations of the Pointe-Au-Chien Native American tribe that live along the Lafourche and Terrebonne parish line know French. Now the younger generations don’t.
“I’ve heard French my entire life. Both my grandparents speak French, my parents speak French, but I was just never taught French,” said Kahlie Naquin, the school nurse.
Through recent legislation in 2022, the school was born to save the language so unique to south Louisiana.
“When they closed the school because of enrollment, we figured it would be a perfect time,” said Christine Verdin, executive director of Ecole Pointe-Au-Chien.
Ecole Pointe au Chien’s first class has seven students total spread between kindergarten and first grade.
“We want to preserve our heritage. Our goal is to have, you know, French being spoken in the homes, not just at school,” said Cynthia Breaux-Seitz, a teacher at the school.
Verdin grew up in the community but did not teach her children French. Something she now regrets. While the language has stayed strong among the tribal members, some in southern Louisiana were forced to leave the language at the door.
“We got the push back because they were punished. Like my friend’s parents were punished for speaking French in school. So they didn’t teach their kids because they didn’t want them to get punished,” Verdin said.
The three teachers will teach both English and French while incorporating the Cajun and Indian French dialects and culture. One of the teachers moved to the area from France. The Cajun French has been a new challenge for him to work into his lessons. It is a challenge he is excited about.
“I heard about this project. It could be very interesting to discover all this culture, to discover this place, and to be very important, because French here, it’s a legacy,” said Gaeton Lombard, a teacher at the school. “ I think it’s very important to put back French here.”
Instructors hope the class sizes will grow as more learn about it and their school building is officially built. Students should be moving into it in the next couple months. For now they are working out of a church in Bourg.
Verdin said there is a misconception it is just a tribal school. While the school was pushed for largely by tribal members, they say it is for everyone who lives in Terrebonne Parish.
The school still reports to the department of education like every other school and will prepare for its students to take the LEAP tests down the road. They hope later on to add second-grade and even adult classes.
“After they realize that we’re on our feet, I think that next year I will improve in that more students will enroll,” Breaux-Seitz said.
The small team has put in many hours trying to make this school happen. All in the name of keeping their heritage from washing away.
“It’s a dying language here and we want to preserve our heritage. We want to not let the language die,” Breaux-Seitz said.
Ecole Pointe-au-Chien joins over a dozen French immersion schools across the state, but for the far reaches of the coastal communities, it offers a rare experience.