Holmdel High School French Honor Society students do more than learn the language and study cultural differences. They truly embrace the lifestyle – practicing French etiquette, baking French classics and writing to French students, with some even visiting French cities. Led by foreign language instructor Laurence Cogger, this exceptional group of students goes above and beyond to understand French-speaking people in other parts of the world and to help fellow students across the globe.
Juniors and seniors in the French Honor Society (FHS) must be at the French IV level, have at least an 87.5 class average and must have maintained a 3.0 GPA across all their courses. About 30 students are currently in the program and are mentored by Cogger, who has taught in Holmdel for the past 13 years.
“There are a lot of expectations of them,” Cogger said. “They have to be in good standing [academically] and come to every meeting. They also have to cook as we have bake sales. In the past, the FHS has made brioche, crepes and madeleine. Students must participate in events that we do. During COVID-19, we haven’t been able to, but typically we go caroling around Christmas at nursing homes in Holmdel.”
Students also take trips to the Barnes Foundation, an art collection and educational institution in Philadelphia. This past April, Cogger took a group of nine to Paris and Normandy.
“That was an expensive trip, and I wanted to offer something that didn’t cost as much money,” Cogger said. “I really wanted to promote an exchange program. Through the French Embassy, I was able to create an exchange with a town in France. COVID-19 put everything on hold, but this year, we’re hoping to welcome 12 students and an English teacher from Alsace, a town near Strasbourg, and hopefully to have 12 of our students go there in April 2023.”
Outside of France, students from Holmdel also connect with peers in other French-speaking countries. Through their fundraising efforts, FHS members have given back to Fonds Jean Noel, a sister school in Haiti that accepts students in kindergarten through 12th grade. Cogger collects money that students make selling baked goods, T-shirts, raffle items, etc. and send it to the school through Haiti Futur, a program that aims to spread digital classes to 500 classrooms in Haiti, while training teachers and creating course contents in Creole and French. So far, Holmdel students have purchased batteries for the school as well as a copier and freezer, which are used to provide paper documents and ice to the surrounding community. Through this program, Cogger and FHS kids have contributed to the construction of four new classrooms.
“Five years ago, when we started, the money that we sent was used to keep a group of 13 kids in school one year longer in school,” Cogger said. “Selling a couple crepes every month is not much, but for them to realize it was actually keeping kids another year in school, that’s something they remember for the rest of their lives. That really comforted me – working toward something that is meaningful for them.”