By Brittni Henderson
Smithfield High School French teacher Margarita Dempsey was awarded the Ordre des Palmes Académiques (French for “Order of Academic Palms”) on November 26, 2018, one of only 40 other recipients in the United States. This international award is granted to individuals who are leaders in spreading French language education across the world.
The award has been bestowed since 1808 and is chosen by nomination. Dempsey and her colleagues strongly advocate for not only the language itself, but cultural lessons, economic connections, and the eye-opening experiences that come from learning not only French, but all foreign languages.
“This is an extraordinary honor,” says Dempsey. “It is very humbling.”
Dempsey believes in staying up to date with the trends in not only education, but socially as well. Technology is constantly changing, so to keep students engaged, she likes to stay one step ahead of the game. In less than a decade, foreign language classes have gone from interactive videos in a computer lab, to the handheld devices that practically every student can get his or her hands on. Real-time news stories, popular music downloads, and current magazines are just a few ways that Dempsey immersed her students into the French culture.
“Using real-life things like posters, advertisements, magazines, and today’s news are great tool for the classroom tools,” Dempsey says.
She adds that these resources benefit every level of student, too. From entry level to advanced, there is something that can be used to bring French culture from overseas and into the grasp of students.
“Students even currently text message lingo,” she adds. “I try to keep it very relevant, and never boring!”
One of the biggest takeaways that Dempsey hopes to provide students is respect. Not only for the French culture, but for all of those around the world.
“Foreign language classrooms provide skills needed for life,” Dempsey says. “Students learn how to communicate, converse, and respect others.”
Dempsey has been steadfast in her career of foreign language education for 28 years. Before she made her mark on students at Smithfield High School, she taught in New York and Maryland. She does not see retirement in her near future, either.
“I will continue teaching until it’s not fun anymore,” she shared, “adding to all of the great ways that foreign language education benefits our society.”