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Tempe French Immersion School Reflects On Notre Dame Fire

Fire ravaged France’s historic Notre Dame Cathedral on Monday.

Teachers at the French American Academy of Arizona talked about it over lunch that day and Tuesday morning, gave students at the French immersion charter school a chance to reflect.

“We’re going to talk about a big news story that happened in Paris, who knows it?” Sandy Martinez asked.

Hands in the classroom shot up.

“I’m sad because it was a really old place people visited and memories they had there, but now it’s just destroyed,” said one student.  

“I’m sad and kinda want to put flowers on a cross,” said their classmate.

Their French teacher, Kahina Houhat, lived in France.

"This is a big loss because this is a large part of France's history," she said in French. Amy Shaw, one of the school’s administrators translated our conversation.

Houhat helps her students connect to French culture through lessons about the language and the school implements other strategies to immerse the children. For example. instead of a class leader, they have a responsable — French for person in charge and a baker visits the school every Thursday with croissants and baguettes.

“It's important to speak other languages to learn about other cultures to pass that on,” Houtat said.

Shaw explained there isn’t a clear English translation for the words Houtat used next to describe the value of this cultural exchange, but she compares it to having a wealth of knowledge.

The Notre Dame fire, though tragic, was another way for these students to connect to a place more than 5,000 miles away.

KJZZ's Matt Kling contributed to this story.

Mariana Dale rustles up stories as a senior field correspondent based out of KJZZ’s East Valley Bureau in Tempe. She’s followed a microphone onto cattle ranches, to the Dominican Republic and many places in between. Dale believes in a story’s strength to introduce us to diverse perspectives, inspire curiosity and hold public leaders accountable for their actions. She started at KJZZ on the digital team in 2016 and still spends a lot of time thinking about how to engage with our community online. Dale has learned from stints at Arizona Public Media, The Arizona Daily Star, The Arizona Republic and as an intern at NPR’s Morning Edition in Culver City. She graduated from the University of Arizona with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Dale is grateful for the mentoring of the New York Times Student Journalism Institute, the Chips Quinn Scholars program and AIR’s New Voices Scholars. A desert native, she loves spending time outside hiking, tending to her cactus and reading.