December 1997

A Successful

A Successful Partnership

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By Claude Picard and Mario Cossette

Thirty-five students in the French immersion program at Langstaff Secondary School in Richmond Hill are listening intently to a presentation by Canada’s commercial attaché to Mexico. The topic is commercial and cultural exchanges between Canada and Mexico under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Nothing out of the ordinary here, except that the presentation is taking place at the Canadian Embassy in Mexico City.

At the end of every school year, thousands of Ontario students take trips in Ontario, elsewhere in Canada and even overseas. For these 35 students from Langstaff, the trip to Mexico is the culmination of a whole year of work, research, study, planning and fundraising.

Their enthusiasm for the program speaks volumes for the interest it has generated. Emil Cermak, a student in the Mexican Studies Program, says, "The course has given me a chance to see Mexico from a number of different perspectives. I feel like I’ve really learned something."

Langstaff French immersion students visit the Teotihuacan pyramids.

The Certificate in Mexican Studies is the brainchild of Claude Picard, a teacher in Langstaff’s French immersion program, with input from Sergio Ramos, Mexico’s Deputy Trade Commissioner in Canada. The program is aimed at Grade 12 and OAC French immersion students.

For Ramos, the timing of the program couldn’t be better: "It allows students to see a side of Mexico other than tourism. They get a realistic look at the Mexican economy, and that’s what counts most: how Mexico really does business."

Later that day, the students visited an auto assembly plant in Puebla, a city 120 km from Mexico City, followed by an evening at the Ballet Nacional Folkloricó de Mexico. The day’s itinerary is a good illustration of what the curriculum of the Certificate in Mexican Studies has to offer.

Certificate courses are taught in French, English and Spanish throughout the school year. The courses cover Mexican economics, geography, history, language, art and culture. To earn a certificate, each student must prepare an in-depth profile of a Mexican industry and identify export possibilities for Canadian companies.

The program, the only one of its kind in Canada, has partners in the public and private sectors, including the Mexican Trade Commission in Toronto, the Canadian Embassy in Mexico, Magna International and Edna Technologies. It also receives generous financial support from many partners, not to mention the support of the administration of Langstaff Secondary School and the York Region Board of Education.

This partnership has led, not only to the program itself, but also to the creation of a section in the school library devoted to every aspect of Mexican society. The section contains donations of resources such as manuals, guidebooks and CD ROMs.

What makes the Certificate in Mexican Studies program special is its multidisciplinary approach. It combines a variety of subjects so that students can acquire general knowledge about Mexican society and take a more detailed look at the country’s economic issues.

Margarita De Antuñano, who runs the Canada-Mexico Cultural Exchange Centre at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, gave a workshop for the students on Mexican domestic and foreign trade practices. De Antuñano explains, "I want the students to realize to what extent the cultural differences between two countries can be detrimental to business. The key to success is a willingness to venture beyond the clichés and gain a real appreciation of the subtleties of a society and how it differs from our own culture."

The year-end trip for the group – who learn in French, Spanish and English – includes a visit to the centre for Mexican Language Studies at the University of Mexico.

For these students, learning about Mexico begins with learning French. In fact, to sign up for the Certificate in Mexican Studies, students must be enrolled in the French immersion program, because courses are given in French, English and Spanish. After all, the aim of the program is to familiarize students with the Mexican economy and to promote young entrepreneurship. With the advent of NAFTA, young people are learning that if they want to succeed in business, they must have French, English and Spanish.

Unlike the other OACs, this program has the advantage of combining instruction in different subjects. Literature, economics and art are all taught by various teachers. The success of the program relies on a partnership among the teachers in the school. To succeed in the program and develop a sector profile that is useful and reality-based, students must have access to an exhaustive range of data.

Jennifer Lui, a Certificate student, explains, "Before I started the course, I only saw Mexico as a tourist destination. Now I understand Mexico’s value to Canadians as a new trade partner and the importance of getting to know the country."

This year, 35 more students have registered for the program. The emphasis is on learning Spanish. The program receives support from many partners, including special participation from GM Mexico. More than 25 organizations are demonstrating their interest in the schools by taking part in a program to train future young entrepreneurs.

Claude Picard teaches in the French immersion program at Langstaff Secondary School and is creator of the Certificate in Mexican Studies. Mario Cossette is a communications officer and translator for the Ontario College of Teachers.