France Honors Seven Bilingual Education Experts in New York

Medal ceremony in honor of Isabelle Barrière, Katherine Dello Stritto, Cynthia J. Felix, Annique Leman, Dana Raciunas, Pascale Setbon, and Brian Zager

Who were conferred the insignia of Chevalier of the Ordre des Palmes Académiques by Dr. Fabrice Jaumont, Education Attaché on May 17, 2022.


Dear friends, 

It is with immense pleasure that we are hosting this ceremony here at the Embassy of France today.  

As you know, we are gathered today for the celebration and decoration of pillars of bilingual education.  

From teachers to academics to school leaders, our dear honorees have all taken part in many ways in the progress of the French language and bilingual education in New York and in the United States.  

Pillars indeed, for French and also for their communities. Two years after the beginning of the pandemic I want to take a moment to underline our honorees’ resilience as they all worked relentlessly to carry out their mission and lead their school community through these trying times.  

Now on to the award itself, the Palmes Académiques. 

Did you know that.... oh, by the way, there is a quiz at the end of the class... this insignia is part of France's civil awards and decorations and was created by none other than Napoléon Bonaparte himself in 1808 to reward the devotion and accomplishments of teachers and for their valuable service to the Nation. It was changed into its current form as an order of merit on 4 October 1955, making it one of the oldest civil honors bestowed by the French Republic. 

Devotion, accomplishments… These two words seem very à propos when speaking of our honorees. 

This award is the testimony of France’s admiration for your work. You are the ones that make our mission possible... Through your promotion of the French language and culture, you are helping bridge two people together. 

Starting with you, Isabelle Barriere.  

It is not an easy task to summarize your 43-page long resume and lifelong commitment to multilingualism.  

You are, first and foremost, an accomplished linguist and educator whose research has been significant in developing our understanding of language acquisition and development in young children from different origins and backgrounds.  

Your international career led you to the United Kingdom, where you earned your doctorate, and now to the United States, where you work with colleagues and children from all over the globe.  

But what is most striking about you is your ability to act. Using your expertise, you co-founded the Yeled V’Yalda institute which helps thousands of children every day through education and clinical services in fifteen languages.  

La France n’oublie pas ses talents, même après des décennies d’expatriation. Nous sommes fiers d’avoir une compatriote si talentueuse.  

Dear Katie Dello Stritto 

You are the leader of PS 58’s community, the first breakthrough French dual language program in New York City. PS 58’s great reputation is due to you and your team.  

First as a teacher, and now as principal of the school, you have developed the French dual language program and transformed it into the powerhouse that it is today, which is a source of pride and accomplishment.  

With more than twelve classes in the program, yours is one of the biggest and most recognized in New York City. Your efforts have paid off, with many, including us at the embassy, commanding your hard work and leadership.  

And I cannot stress this enough.  You are always ready to take courageous stands, or to assert yourself as a leader to protect your community. 

Katie and Annique, our friend Giselle would be immensely proud to see you here. I know she is looking from up there. 

Let's continue with Annique Leman  

Il y aura donc une Canadienne médaillée ce soir et je suis particulièrement heureux que tu sois cette médaillée. Nous devons beaucoup au Canada, source d’inspiration pour les programmes bilingues, source d’idées, de livres et de talents, comme toi. 

You too are a leader of PS 58’s community. In tandem with Katie, you have played a vital role in developing the French dual language program and promoting the French language here in New York, first as a teacher, and then as assistant principal of your school. I believe you truly are a role model for the children at PS 58, because you are an example of a perfectly bilingual, successful woman.  

Your dedication to promoting the French language far exceeds your action at PS 58. You are also teaching French at Hunter College, shaping the future of French language education by training future educators. You even volunteered to teach French to refugees in Kenya which is telling of your capacity to adapt even to the most challenging contexts.  

While on the subject of bilingual programs, dear Cynthia Felix, 

As a proud alumnus of NYC public schools, you have dedicated your career to improving them, always for the sake of the students. As a leader, you have occupied many positions, leaving your mark every step of the way.  

On a more personal note, your commitment to improving schools and children’s education does not stop at the DOE (Department of Education). You are involved in many organizations, fighting for more equality and better-quality education, your favorite one being the PTA of your kids’ school. 

This will of yours to make a difference, but also your passion for other cultures, have led you to not only help us in our journey to promote the French language, but to help other communities with their own linguistic needs with over 500 bilingual programs created or supported throughout your 30 years of service. 

As such, you are one of the pioneers of the Bilingual Revolution in New York City, contributing greatly to the creation of many dual-language programs, including the first French dual language program at PS58 in Brooklyn. 

Dear Dana Raciunas 

You dedicated more than 30 years of your life to curing monolingualism, yes, we are all here to cure it! And you did. First as an ESL teacher and literacy coach, and then as principal of your school. 30 years spent at PS110, which is a token of your dedication and commitment. What an impressive career you have had. 

Like PS110, your approach to education is progressive and forward-thinking. As a school, you aim to teach the whole child, with an emphasis not just on their academic results, but more importantly on their overall wellbeing.  

This is the Dana I know: you will always put the children first inside and outside your school. And I like that, particularly as one of the parents at your school. 

You were also there when a few of us approached you and Anna Cano Amato at PS 110 to open a French dual language program. You took a leap of faith in us, and fast-forward twelve years later, you have helped hundreds if not thousands of children become bilingual, biliterate, and culturally sensitive. 

For all that, and for my kid's tardiness, thank you. 

Dear Pascale Setbon 

How can we talk about the bilingual revolution without mentioning you?  

You have helped us on so many levels. I remember, it was a long time ago, there were a group of parents in Brooklyn discussing “how can we change school? How can we create more choices for parents in the French community?”. And you started your own intiative, you created your own schools to answer to those needs. You encouraged many parents to sign up for dual language programs. You were engaging with public schools, and with parents advocating for the value of this education for everyone. You’ve been more than an ducator in that sense, challenging the status quo of the few private options available to us. The activist in you wanted to change this. Even now, you are taking a stance on equity, anti-racism, providing ressources to the parents to fight these issues.

I will also say a few words in French, because mon amie Pascale ne me pardonnerait pas si je neparlais qu’en anglais. Pour moi, ton école est un espace unique qui respire la bienveillance et l’inclusion. Tu œuvres à ouvrir les esprits et les horizons de tes élèves à travers ce programme que tu as créé qui reflète ton esprit et ton courage. Many generations of children and their families are indebted to you and to your courage.  
Bravo ma chère Pascale.  

Last but not least, Brian Zager

I am so excited that I soon will be able to kiss you, I mean... professionally speaking when I pin the medal on you. But I am sure you'll prefer a kiss from Madame Macron who visited your school not so long ago.

More seriously, although that's harder than expected... First of all, you changed the name of your school to Lafayette Academy. And that, in itself, is quite something. You chose to honor a French hero whose values were tied to the defense of minorities and the promotion of free speech, in lign with the philosophie des Lumières.  

This also calls back to your work: you have committed yourself and your work to social justice, equity, and inclusion throughout your tenure as an educator in one of the most diverse and segregated districts in New York city.  

As a principal, your attachment to implementing ambitious and innovative methods and programs has helped your school bloom into the institution that it is today. And it is my wish that you lead us all into creating NYC's first French dual-language high school. We can do this. 

Now on to the medal presentation 

In a minute, I will pin this medal to each of you and bestow upon you the title of Chevalier / Knight in the Order of Academic Palms on behalf of the Government of France, the Embassy of France to the United States, and Cultural Counselor Gaëtan Bruel.

While the title does not come with land or castle, nor even a horse, we are extremely proud to call you Chevalier, because you truly are the Knights of the Bilingual Revolution, and we are grateful for what you have carried out and helped us accomplish. 

Without you, all of you, there wouldn't be a bilingual revolution today.