By Claude Picard and Mario Cossette
students in the French immersion program at Langstaff
Secondary School in Richmond Hill are listening
intently to a presentation by Canadas
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 Ive really learned
immersion students visit the Teotihuacan pyramids.
The Certificate in
Mexican Studies is the brainchild of Claude Picard, a
teacher in Langstaffs French immersion program,
with input from Sergio Ramos, Mexicos Deputy
Trade Commissioner in Canada. The program is aimed at
Grade 12 and OAC French immersion students.
For Ramos, the timing of
the program couldnt be better: "It allows
students to see a side of Mexico other than tourism.
They get a realistic look at the Mexican economy, and
thats what counts most: how Mexico really does
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
days 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 countrys 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."
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 Mexicos 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
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.