Severna Park Middle School French teacher Mike McTammany said he was among a few county teachers in 2001 who sought to take students to Canada's French-speaking province, Quebec, to apply the language firsthand.
Some classes were all set to go, but the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks prompted the school board to prohibit any foreign travel. McTammany said that some who had already paid for portions of the trip lost money.
When foreign travel resumed for county schools, teachers sought again to go, and over the past few years there's been a steady stream of Anne Arundel students touring Quebec City, the provincial capital, and Montreal, the nation's second-largest city.
On Wednesday night, the Board of Education again approved the travel to Canada, setting in motion plans for students at seven county schools to head to America's northern neighbor next year for French studies.
McTammany said Severna Park Middle will send more than 40 seventh- and eighth-grade French students to the country from May 3 to 8.
"We made a little movie last year when we went up there, and we toured the old Olympic Stadium" in Montreal," said McTammany, who has taken a contingent of students for the past three years. "We go to a lumberjack meal: You go to what is supposed to be a lumberyard for a family-style sit-down meal and sing and dance all of these folk songs. It's really a good time."
Arundel Middle and Southern Middle's eighth-grade French I students — a total of 55, plus chaperones and teachers — will also visit from May 3-8.
"The kids have cross-curriculum activities. The students get to use the French language in real life," said Tara Crews, Southern Middle's French teacher, who went with a group last year. She said the students go on walking tours and visit museums and a basilica.
"They get to experience the French-speaking culture and they gain knowledge of that Francophone culture, even though it's right on our border." She added that though English is spoken throughout the province, people in the capital "prefer that you speak French. They're much more willing to help you if you speak French."
Crofton Middle will send 47 students to Montreal and Quebec City from May 10-15.
Forty students from Magothy River Middle's seventh- and eighth-grade French I classes are part of a group that will visit May 20-24. A total of 70 students, 36 chaperones and one teacher from Chesapeake Bay Middle School's French Club will head to Quebec Jan. 19-24.
Glen Burnie High School's French IV and AP French students, a total of six, are part of a contingent that will visit on spring break, April 16-21.
McTammany said that activities such as the tours to Canada help trigger interest in French classes at a time when many students are gravitating toward Spanish.
"It's remarkable how even after having just one year of middle school French, the kids can have the self-confidence to go up there and try to speak a little bit," said McTammany, who has been teaching French for 28 years.
"The people up there are very receptive," he added. "We got a pen-pal exchange last year and we got to meet our pen pals in Quebec City. For me, it's a chance to brush up on my French again."