Trinity pupils learn French language and culture

Neighbors

February 15, 1999|By Sally Voris | Sally Voris,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

FRENCH TEACHER Karen Mentz swished into the first- and second-grade classrooms at Trinity School dressed in a full-length, lavender satin gown with a three-tiered skirt.

She sported a matching white lace parasol, and her curly shoulder-length hair was framed by a wide-brimmed white lace hat.

For the past two years, Mentz has taught French to grades five through eight at Trinity Middle School in Ellicott City.

Teaching French culture is as important as teaching the language, she says.

Last week, Trinity pupils learned about Mardi Gras. Mentz explained that the French "Mardi Gras" -- literally, "Fat Tuesday" -- is celebrated just before Ash Wednesday, the start of the Lenten season.

Lent is "a time of repentance and thinking about our sins," Mentz said, and the French throw a big party before the Lenten fasting begins.

Her middle school pupils decorated masks with sequins, feathers and glitter. They strung bead necklaces during French class.

Last Monday and Wednesday, they added the festive garb to their conservative school uniforms.

Girls wear white blouses and gray-and-green plaid tunics at Trinity; boys wear gray pants, white shirts and green ties. Covered by masks and necklaces, and accompanied by a Cajun version of the tune "Jambalaya," they paraded through first- and second-grade classrooms. The revelers gave the young pupils bead necklaces and plastic coins as they walked by.

Assistant Principal Pat Whitman brought a compact disc of "Cajun Cookin' " that featured authentic New Orleans-style music. She and her husband, Bob, travel to New Orleans at least three times a year for his business.

After the parade, the pupils in Wednesday's fifth-grade French class went to their classroom and ate crepes.

Mothers Diane Gaspar, Terry Gyi, Mary Tilghman and Cathy Hilbush made crepes in electric crepe-makers while the pupils paraded.

Pupils lined up for crepes, toppings and seconds.

Said Hilbush, "It's easier cooking for a family."

At the school's Fall Festival in October, she bid on and won a French dessert party offered by Mentz.

Hilbush attended the party Jan. 13 in Mentz's home with her daughter, Melanie. Her daughter taught her to make crepes and persuaded her to buy a crepe machine for their family, which she used at the Trinity event.

Pupils called Hilbush "Madame Crepe" at the event.

Mary Tilghman and her son, Sean Truitt, made the batter for the chocolate crepes. "It's the first time he's made anything," Tilghman said. "It's nice to start with French cooking."

Mentz explained that her pupils call her "Madame," the title French children would use to address their teacher. Each of her pupils has taken a French name for the class, which she conducts in French as much as possible.

At the event, pupils introduced themselves by their French names: "Je m'appelle Antoine. Je m'appelle Raoul."

Others chimed in with their French names: Elizabeth, Monique, Patricia, Florence, Isabelle.

A reserved Vanessa Nastase explained that she chose her French name "Louise" because it's her "mom's middle name and my mother has been studying French for 21 years."

Mentz lives in Ellicott City with her husband, John. The couple moved here four years ago because of his job. Their son Robert is a senior at Centennial High School. He is captain of the basketball team and played Daddy Warbucks in the school's production of "Annie."

He was swing dancing at the school's dance two Fridays ago, Mentz said.

Their daughter Jessica is a freshman at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Va.

Hilbush said the pupils love this class because it's a good blend of culture and language.

Mentz described the "Tour de France" -- a school event modeled on the famous bicycle race in which cyclists travel from the Alps to Provence, and end by riding down the Champs Elysees in Paris.

Trinity School's "Tour de France" is held in the fall. French pupils compete in teams representing different countries on a course laid out on the school grounds.

Last year, a volunteer made a model of L'Arc de Triomphe through which the contestants pedaled to finish the race.

Pupils from grades five through eight ride the course on tricycles. Several parents, as well as Mentz and Whitman, described the event as hilarious.

Mentz noted that the pupils learn about France as they stop at stations representing different parts of the country during the race.

Pancake supper

In another tradition that marks the beginning of Lent, Melville Chapel United Methodist Church will hold a pancake supper from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. tomorrow.

The church, founded before the American Revolution and now at 5660 Furnace Road in Elkridge, is one of the oldest in American Methodism.

Francis Asbury was the first of many circuit riders to stop at Melville Chapel in Elkridge, which was founded in 1772.

In a journal entry dated Sunday, Nov. 26, 1794, Asbury wrote, "The next day, I came to Elk Ridge; where I saw after 22 years' labour, a well-designed frame of a new house for public worship."

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