FREEPORT – Tara and William Magaw moved to Maine so their children could attend L’Ecole Francaise du Maine.

Gretchen and John Baker’s children travel 90 miles from Hartland, near Skowhegan, to attend the French School of Maine.

Both couples saw something special in the 70-student school, in the pastoral village of South Freeport.

So, too, did the Ministry of Education in France.

On Thursday, the French consul general came from Boston to deliver an accreditation certificate recognizing the school as a bastion of French language, culture and education.

“It means the school meets our educational standards, both academic and administrative,” Christophe Guilhou said before presenting the certificate to Willy LeBihan, a founder and director of the eight-year-old school.

“For the French government, this (accreditation program) is important because these students will know the French language and culture and they will share it,” Guilhou said. “They will have a special link with France that has the potential to influence their careers and their relationships throughout their lives.”

The French School of Maine is the third school in New England to be certified by the French government, after the International School of Boston and the French-American School of Rhode Island in Providence.

It’s one of 40 accredited French schools in the United States that serve about 13,000 students and adhere to the French National Curriculum, which promotes bilingual and multicultural studies. The French School of Maine also bases its curriculum on the standards of Maine Learning Results.

Guilhou presented the accreditation certificate at South Freeport Church during the school’s annual graduation and awards ceremony, which included student singers and musicians performing French songs. Four students graduated from Grade 7: Anna Bilodeau of Monmouth, Anna MacLean of Camden and Elise LeBihan of Freeport, and another who did not want to be identified.

To become accredited, the school produced a 100-page education plan, and French education officials observed classes in action. The review took nearly three years.

“It has been a long, hard process and it’s really nice to have our work validated and recognized,” said Beth LeBihan, a founder and director of the school.

LeBihan said accreditation will help the school recruit teachers from France because it’s now considered part of the French school system. When teachers take sabbaticals to work in Maine, they will continue to advance up the pay scale and contribute to their pension plans in France.

In addition, students who have at least one parent who is a French citizen can apply for scholarships from the French government, LeBihan said. The French School of Maine has about 15 students who have French citizenship ties, and receive about $100,000 in scholarships. The school’s annual tuition ranges from $9,000 for preschool programs to $11,000 for grades 1 through 7.

Tara and William Magaw moved to Portland three years ago after visiting the French School of Maine. They had lived abroad for several years and wanted to send their children to an international school.

Now, 4-year-old Kale Magaw is in the preschool program and 15-month-old Madison Magaw is waiting in the wings. William Magaw commutes daily on the Downeaster train to his job at State Street Bank in Boston, where he oversees employees in several countries, including 20 people in China.

Given their global experiences, the Magaws said they’re glad that the French School of Maine also teaches Mandarin Chinese.

“With the world changing the way it is, it’s important to be able to learn about and adapt to other cultures,” Tara Magaw said.

For Gretchen and John Baker, a family physician in Newport, the French School of Maine offered small classes and a full-time gifted-and-talented program for their children, Breac, 11, and Maille, 7.

“The bilingual component is an add-on,” Gretchen Baker said. “What we have here is excellence in education.”

Baker and her kids have learned to make the best of the 180-mile, three-hour round trip each day. While on the road, the kids do homework on custom-built desks, practice guitar or watch DVDs. They stop along the way for hockey or lacrosse games in Gardiner, dance lessons in Augusta or Scout meetings in Hartland.

The kids’ grandfather, Darrell Neal, assumes driving duties a few days each week. While they are in school, Baker or Neal naps in the minivan, runs errands in the Portland area or visits the local library. Their days start around 6 a.m. and end around 7:30 p.m.

“The drive is the only hard thing my kids do,” Baker said. “And they both love to go to school.”

 

Staff Writer Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at:

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