Guy Dippolito travels to France every summer to vacation, but his trip this year will be a little different.
Dippolito, a Hamilton resident who teaches French at Robbinsville High School, is a recipient of the prestigious Fulbright Classroom Teacher Exchange grant. As part of the program, Dippolito will teach English at Lycée le Corbusier, a French technical high school in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, a suburb of Rouen in the northern region of France.
“I’m excited to meet my new students and, it sounds crazy, but each person can make the world a little bit smaller in their own way, and I’d love to be able to shrink the world and build on the relationship that our two countries have,” Dippolito said.
His exchange partner, a woman from France, will take Dippolito’s place, teaching French at Robbinsville High School from September to June. Because the grant does not cover living expenses, Dippolito and his exchange partner will live in each other’s apartments and drive each other’s cars.
“She’s so eager to come here,” he said. “She’s going to come here in August for a couple weeks so I can show her around.”
After completing the extensive 12-page application in October, Dippolito was notified in May that he was chosen to be a Fulbright recipient. He was one of approximately 60 American teachers chosen to take part in the Teacher Exchange program, and one of only nine who will teach in France.
“I was so thrilled and so happy when I found out I had received [the grant],” Dippolito said. “I’m hoping this will be a way to stimulate interest in the French program [at Robbinsville].”
Robbinsville principal Molly Avery said the school is very proud of Dippolito and his upcoming trip.
“His experiences in France will benefit and enhance his ability to bring the culture and language back to his students in Robbinsville,” she wrote in an e-mail.
Robbinsville Superintendent Steve Mayer agreed, and said he is thrilled about the exchange program.
“We think it’s a good opportunity to have our students experience a Fulbright Exchange with a native French-speaking French teacher in the community,” he said. “We’re supportive of it and very pleased.”
Though he isn’t of French origin, Dippolito took an interest in the language and culture of the country as a student at Nottingham High School, where he credits former teacher Bill Vogt for instilling that passion in him.
“I always used to do my French homework first in high school and college because I guess when you love something you want to get better at it,” Dippolito said. “I always try to learn new French songs or see French films as much as I can. I just bought a crêpe-maker for my kids in the class.”
In addition to feeding his students crêpes, Dippolito organizes exchanges with French pen pals and takes his classes on frequent field trips to see French impressionist paintings at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Barnes Foundation, as well as to French restaurants to sample the cuisine. His main goal is to eventually create a student exchange program with France, which he has been trying to do on his own by contacting teachers in France and speaking with administration.
Dippolito hopes his acceptance into the Teacher Exchange program will increase enrollment in Robbinsville’s French program, which he said is suffering after school administrators instituted cuts.
“People don’t realize [the language’s] importance,” Dippolito said. “It’s the official language of the United Nations and the American Red Cross. Also, worldwide, French is the most widely known second language.”
With the cuts, French 1 will no longer be offered in the high school starting next academic year, with French 2 to follow suit in 2012. The French program in the middle school has been completely eliminated.
“Surveys have been taken by parents in the school district on what they think educational priorities should be and number one is world languages,” he said.
Mayer also hopes that Dippolito’s experience with the Fulbright program can interest more students in the French curriculum in Robbinsville.
“We’re very interested in seeing if this is something that can boost enrollment,” he said.
Dippolito is planning to make the seven-and-a-half-hour flight to France at the end of August after attending a Fulbright orientation in Washington, D.C., August 1-5.
He wants his work in France to serve as a reminder to school administrators and parents that French is still valuable for students in the United States to learn.
“I hope this [Fulbright program] shows that teachers are willing to invest a big part of their lives to help students succeed.”