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La Belle Vie

03/10/2017 07:00AM ● Published by Robert Frey

Gallery: La Belle Vie [11 Images] Click any image to expand.

Zachary Richard And French Immersion Students Sing 

New Iberia’s Praises 

By Hailey Hensgens Fleming  |  Photos by Sébastien Hoonhorst

Since the founding of our state, Louisiana has been known as a cultural melting pot. In its brief history, various cultures from around the world have left distinct marks on the landscape and its people.  In Acadiana, those have been largely recognized as the legacy of our French ancestors – a fact noted in our cuisine, music, character, architectural elements and, of course, our language.  For many, the French language has been lost to the past. However, for the French Immersion students at North Lewis Elementary School, the language is alive and well – in and out of the classroom. A group of these students put their language skills on display with the recent release of “La Belle Vie,” a French song they co-wrote with singer Zachary Richard.

The song about “the good life” in New Iberia was released on December 13, 2016 following months of effort that started back in the spring. Richard paid the class a visit at the invitation of Monsieur Hoonhorst, a 3rd year North Lewis French Immersion teacher from Toulouse, France. Although initially intending to discuss poetry with the students, after a few minutes of the class brainstorming about things they like to do around New Iberia, Richard realized they had the beginnings of a song. 

“It was a little undisciplined, but that’s what’s interesting about it,” Richard explains. “Kids are amazing because they’re not inhibited in any way, so the ideas came relatively quickly and during the hour I visited I had enough raw material to finish the song.” 

This French Immersion project was the second Zachary Richard has collaborated on. In 2015, he assisted in the production of the album “J’ai une Chanson dans Mon Coeur” with children from programs all over the state. He explains, “School can be pretty boring so when someone shows up and says ‘Hey! Let’s write a song together!’ it’s a pretty interesting way to interact with the kids and also to validate their French experience.” 

The project was met with great enthusiasm from the school administration as well as the community, and within a few months they had secured the funds to professionally record the song. At the close of the school year the class met at Dockside Studio and got to work. The children recorded vocals and Roddy Romero, Eric Adcock, Tony Daigle and Gary Usie, who covered the music.

They soon began working on the music video, which Richard describes as a “very typical video experience.” After the first date was rained out, they caught a bit of luck and were able to begin filming on a beautiful October weekend. Eric Breaux, a local videographer, filmed the students dancing and singing “La Belle Vie” around some of New Iberia’s most notable tourism assets, including the Shadows on the Teche, the pepper fields of Avery Island and Jungle Gardens. With the support of the New Iberia Police Department, they were even able to close down a section of Main Street to get a few shots of their school bus cruising down the road. When asked about their experience, students gave an overwhelmingly positive response. Abigail Babineaux, a 6th grade French Immersion student and song soloist, states, “It was fun and it was tiring, but most of all it was something unforgettable that I’ll remember for the rest of my life.”

Filming lasted two days and, to the surprise of several students, it was quite intensive. Zoriahn Davis, another 6th grade French Immersion student and song soloist, was amazed by how much work these kinds of productions require. She comments, “I learned it’s not really that easy to make a video. I thought it would be 90 percent fun and 10 percent work, but we really did a lot of work!” Student Madison Helms echoes her sentiments, but adds that if this is what it takes to film a three-minute video then she “feels bad for people who make entire movies.” Sébestien Hoonhorst, their teacher, was very proud of the work they did. “All of the students were really involved and willing to do scenes again and again,” he says. 

The production of the song turned out to be quite the learning experience for the kids. “They now appreciate things when they see them on television for all the work that goes into them,” says North Lewis Principal Tim Rosamond. Richard adds, “They are learning something and are participating in professional skills so they understand how songs are recorded and videos are produced.”

All their hard work paid off and the finished product was a song and music video that showcased not only a catchy tune, but also their knowledge of the French language. Perhaps even more than the professional experience, this project afforded them the opportunity to contribute to one of the overall purposes of the French Immersion program: the preservation and reestablishment of French as a heritage language of South Louisiana. 

After being outlawed in public schools in 1922, the French language slowly declined until it was re-adopted as an official language of the state in 1968. The French Immersion program was established in an effort to revive the language among Louisiana schools. Since its establishment at North Lewis Elementary School in 2002, the program has thrived. Approximately 50 students per grade, from Kindergarten through 6th, spend 60 percent of their day completely immersed in French. The result is a group of young people who are confident not only in their language ability, but also in their learning ability. 

“It’s an astounding program because it is allowing us to preserve a fundamental aspect of our culture, but more importantly it’s an educational tool,” Zachary Richard explains. Research has proven that bilingual students have consistently higher standardized testing scores as well as a greater appreciation of local and global cultures. 

With 13 French Immersion teachers, 12 of whom are from various French-speaking countries, North Lewis students are getting a healthy dose of culture in addition to their regular studies. Principal Rosamond explains that through this, students are able to learn cultural links to people elsewhere. “Within South Louisiana they see the uniqueness of our culture, but then they learn to appreciate world cultures as well,” he says. Richard adds, “I find that to be the most important aspect of the program. Not only its education and preservation aspects, but it exposes our young children to a vision of society that is very inclusive and very open.” 

As for the children of the French Immersion program, they are all more than willing to sing its praises. Zoriahn Davis says, “It helps you to stand out more and gives you opportunities to meet with different types of people.” Abigail Babineaux adds, “I love being able to talk to people all around the world in a language I love.” Khloie Eldridge, a fellow 6th grade French Immersion student, was also excited about the opportunity to speak with local Cajun French speakers. “I was able to learn about them and learn how they speak French,” she says. 

 In addition to their song, “La Belle Vie,” students have been able to apply their skills through different activities. Some of these include the French Table at Victor’s Cafeteria on Thursday mornings, an upcoming French Book Fair, participating in a recent poetry reading of Les Cenelles, and even a trip to Quebec, Canada this summer.  

Such unique opportunities coupled with the outstanding support of the community has helped to create a rare school experience for the French Immersion students at North Lewis Elementary. They have learned, first hand, how good life in New Iberia can be. 

“La Belle Vie” is available for download and all proceeds go to the consortium of French Immersion programs. The music video can be viewed at their website and further information about the North Lewis French Immersion program can be obtained at

In Print Zachary Richard La Belle Vie French Immersion North Lewis Elementary School

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