Head of School for Académie Lafayette
Elimane Mbengue is the Head of School for Académie Lafayette, the first charter school established in the state of Missouri 21 years ago. Académie Lafayette has consistently outperformed the state average including scoring 24 percentage points higher in proficiency than the state average in English language arts and math combined. The school, as part of its strategic plan, has deliberately increased its efforts to enroll more minority students and students who qualify for free and reduced lunch. SchoolSmartKC has been pleased to support Académie Lafayette’s recruitment efforts as well as their expansion to offer more high-quality seats for Kansas City students.
Q: How did you get your start in education in the United States?
A: After finishing my training as a school district administrator in Senegal, I decided to come to the U.S. for a couple of years to learn more about the education system. I was offered a teaching position in Portland and first taught elementary students in a French immersion school accredited by the French Ministry of Education. After my third year of teaching, I was offered the Head of School position in Portland which I held for eight years. During that time, I was proud to help expand to middle school and develop the first International Baccalaureate Middle Year Program in Oregon. In addition, we were able to resolve a $1.5 million budget deficit and start Mandarin and Spanish programs as third languages. We also implemented Algebra 1 for all eighth grade students.
Q:What made you decide to take the job in Kansas City at Académie Lafayette?
A: I think I was destined to live in Kansas City. Before going to Portland, I had the opportunity to teach in the Kansas City Public School District, but I ultimately decided instead to teach French at the University of Exeter in England. When I came to Académie Lafayette in 2012, it was an exceptional school environment for me. As a public school, Académie Lafayette (AL) allowed me to work with a diverse student population and diverse staff, a big change from the school in Portland. I am exceptionally proud that our students of color and our students who are on free-and-reduced lunch are excelling in state testing, scoring 51% proficient or above in both ELA and math, which is 19 points ahead of the state of Missouri. When I came to Kansas City, the AL Board of Directors had the same vision for the school as I did and that was very exciting. We both wanted to develop the school into an excellent K – 12 learning institution with more foreign languages, a robotics program and a world-class quality education.
Q: What makes French language immersion work as an education model?
A: As an education model, bilingual education offers many benefits to students.
- Académie Lafayette is a full immersion model. All subjects are taught in French starting in Kindergarten. In K & 1 students have only 30 min of English per day. From 2nd grade to 8th grade they have 55 min of English Language Arts. As a result, because students transfer between the two languages, they have higher academic achievement in English Language Arts than their peers in suburban school districts.
- Our teachers come from all over the world which gives us the opportunity to share best educational practices and develop our students’ adaptability to different teaching styles and different French accents. Our foreign teachers have very high expectations for every learner, which we know produces better academic outcomes.
- Our students are very focused and independent. They learn to do their homework and projects with less parental involvement because it is in French, which most parents do not speak. They also spend 10 days in France which helps them get out of their comfort zone and grow in maturity.
Q: What is the long-term plan for Académie Lafayette?
A: AL is very excited to open an international high school and welcome our first class of ninth graders this August! We were fortunate to receive a three-year, $1.3 million federal grant for this project in addition to a $1.5 million grant from SchoolSmartKC to launch a high school and further our strategic plan. The Académie Lafayette International High School (ALIHS) will have a strong STEAM component, with a state-of-the-art makerspace and science room. We also plan to build a gymnasium and an auditorium for our students. Once the high school is at full scale, AL will have over 2,000 enrolled in grades K-12. AL remains committed to successfully educating all learners regardless of their racial, ethnic or socio-economic background.
Q: Can you tell us about the unique honor you received from the French government?
A: In 2018, I received the Award Chevalier dans l’Ordre des Palmes Académiques (Knight is in Order of Academic Palms) for my contribution to education in the French language and culture. The Academic Palms was created in 1808 under Napoleon I to mainly honor educators. In 1866, the award was extended to recognize non educators who had rendered distinguished services to education. It was an honor to receive this award, although it is all our teachers and staff who help shape our students into global learners.
This content was originally published by SchoolSmartKC on 03/04/2020