Friends Justine (left) and Alison (right). (Courtesy of Alison Hernandez)
By: Cameron Merritt
Alison Hernandez is a terminale, the equivalent of a senior, at the Lycée Edgar Faure in Morteau, France, along with friend Justine Frésard. On Sept. 4, the 17 year-olds entered their third and final year of high school, after having spent four years in collège, the French version of middle school. In France, the school year starts in early Sept. and ends in late June, and in between, students have two-week vacations in Oct., late Dec.-early Jan., Feb. and April.
Traditionally, the French school week starts on Monday and ends on Saturday, with a half day on Wednesday, but Hernandez said that very few schools she knew still held Saturday classes.
Lycée Edgar Faure starts at 7:55 a.m., and closes at 5:20 p.m., except on Fridays when it closes five minutes early. Students’ lunch is from 11:55 a.m. to 1:25 p.m., which Hernandez and Frésard consider necessary because it can take a long time to eat, since the entire school has the same lunch time. Most students purchase their food in the cafeteria, or at La Mieu Du Val, a popular food stand just off campus, which sells baked goods during breakfast and lunch.
During the lunch break, students can eat in the cafeteria, where they hang out, do homework, or play games, or go to the Salle Polyvalente, similar to a study hall, where they can do homework, study or talk. When the weather permits it, many will spend the time outside, where some students also smoke, perhaps one of the more prominent differences between U.S. and French schools.
The school’s student body is relatively the same size as AHS, but Hernandez’s region of the Franche-Comté is mostly rural, so students enroll from all over the department, or county, of Doubs. The school’s biggest claim to fame is its nationally-renowned specialized watch-making program, only one of three in the entire country. Students who want to specialize in watch-making travel from all over France to attend. Dorms are provided for those students who come from other parts of France, with about 300 students living on campus.
As students enter high school in France, they are separated into different séries, similar to college majors, of the baccalauréat, the all-important high school test for students in the country. The three main sections are scientific, which involves the study of math and science, économique et social, involving the study of math, economics, and social sciences, and literréaire, which involves further classes in French, foreign languages, philosophy, and history.
Each program is meant to help students be involved with what they want to study in université and which careers they’d like to pursue. Each individual séries determines how many hours of class time and what kinds of classes the students will take. All students in the same program will have the same schedule of classes at the same time, and only with those students in their program. Hernandez is in literréaire, or L, and she takes seven hours each of her two main courses, philosophy and English, along with four hours of history and elective courses each week. Frésard is in économique et social, or SES, with six hours of class time every week in each of her core classes, and four hours of math and history. There is no set amount of required hours each student has to do every day. Similar to colleges in the U.S, schedules for students depend on their courses.
“I have classes on Monday morning but I have the afternoon free. I have six hours of classes on Tuesdays, four hours [on] Wednesdays, eight hours [on] Thursdays and five and a half on Fridays,” said Frésard.
“It’s the head teacher [principal] who decides our schedules,” added Hernandez.
Léonie Chassel, another terminale, L student and friend of Hernandez, says that it can be rare to see friends from another section and any meetings, at all, are very brief.
“I only [walk by] them, I don’t get to talk to them,” she said.
The average school day for Hernandez starts when she wakes up 6 a.m., her bus arrives around 7:10 a.m., and it takes about 45 minutes to drive to her school.
“On the morning bus, almost everyone sleeps,” said Hernandez. “When Justine and I can sit next to each other we talk, but sometimes we can’t so we have to sit next to other people. [When that happens,] I just listen to music and try to rest a little.”
Buses drop students off at a spot near the school, and from there it’s about a five to ten minute walk to the campus. The school is divided up into three main building; one for the school’s administrators, another for the sciences, and a third, large building for most of the other courses.
Once inside, students must go to the classrooms quickly as classes start almost instantly. Each class is 55 minutes long, but sometimes she will have the same subject twice.
“That’s why I say that some days I have two hours of English,” said Hernandez, giving an example.
Her favorite classes are philosophy and English, which she describes as “very interesting,” as she loves the two subjects and does well in them. She wants to pursue a career involving the English language, which she is nearly fluent in. Students take two foreign language courses; she also takes Spanish (“not my favorite” said Hernandez), and previously studied German.
Another subject she has is Sport, or P.E. class, for two hours every week. It’s not her favorite, but she does enjoy aspects of the class, which is good considering it’s a part of her baccalauréat, though only minimally.
“My favorite [activity] last year was probably dance because it was funny and we had to create choreography and we thought we were professional dancers,” said Hernandez with a laugh. “This year my favorite is badminton, [and] I’m actually pretty good at it!”
There are after school sports teams as well, and students have the option to take more sport classes, but she says high school sports aren’t as popular in France as they are in America.
After her final classes, buses start to arrive around 5 p.m. Some students participate in the few after-school activities offered, such as intramural sports and the magic club, however, with a 45 minute bus ride ahead of her, plus a few hours of homework, Hernandez doesn’t feel she’d have the time for such activities. If she could though, she would want to be in a debate club, or music, though she admits she’s not good at singing.
French high school students also begin the process of learning to drive. The French process is much more gradual than the U.S., and while students begin lessons at 16, they cannot receive their licenses until they turn 18.
“Justine is a bit ahead of me because she started sooner, but we’re both allowed to drive with our parents and we have to wait until we’re 18 to take the test,” said Hernandez based on her and Fresard’s current driving situation. Neither have their own cars, in fact, they say they may not even need one at the moment, as both plan to go to a university in the city.
Last year, their school welcomed a foreign exchange student from the U.S., a girl named Nora, for six months. Hernandez, who became friends with her during her stay, said it was quite the learning experience for both Nora and their classmates.
“It was nice because she was different,” said Hernandez. “I remember her saying how tired she was by the end of the day because she wasn’t used to having classes until 5 p.m. She was shocked the first time she saw a student smoking in school. What surprised us the most about her is how ‘free’ she was, like how she casually talked to teachers and talked to people she didn’t know in the hallways.”
When she thinks of high schools in the U.S., she thinks of cheerleaders, football players and prom, saying “they are just symbolic of what we think of when we [the French] talk about the U.S.”
Comparing the two school systems, Hernandez said that she overall preferred the American one for its after-school activities.
“I wished that my school had more activities outside of the classes,” said Hernandez. “I feel like we go to school just for the classes and then we leave. [American schools] don’t, [they] have sport games, Prom & stuff like that. I’d like that.”
She also wished that her school held a graduation ceremony, which only some schools in France do, such as a private school her older sister Megane attended.
As for her own school system, there are a few things she preferred, like how she has the same people in all of her classes, the longer lunches, and having programs like her literréaire, saying that she liked the fact that she no longer had to take subjects she wasn’t so good in like math and science, and focus on those that she succeeds in. She felt that French students don’t care as much about what other people like, what they do, and how they dress, though acknowledged that bullying still occurs.
Asked if she had a final message for the students at AHS, Hernandez thought for a moment then said, “Go Blue Bombardiers!”
Tables at La Mie Du Val, a popular food stand just off campus in Morteau, France. (Photo/Alison Hernandez)
The road leading to Lycée Edgar Faure in Morteau, France. (Photo/Alison Hernandez)
Students entering Lycée Edgar Faure in Morteau, France. (Photo/Alison Hernandez)
A hallway in the Lycée Edgar Faure. (Photo/Alison Hernandez)
The Salle Polyvalente, a quiet room for students to do homework. (Photo/Alison Hernandez)
Alison (left) and Léonie (right) with a doll that was a part of a project on body image last year. (Photo/Maxime Ovarez)