Emmanuel, a student at Ecole Bilingue de Berkeley, gives a TEDxYouth@EB talk in December. Courtesy: EB

Giving a recorded TED talk can be a daunting experience at any age.  But it’s a challenge that eighth-graders at Ecole Bilingue de Berkeley took on — with aplomb — in December as part of the school’s TEDxYouth@EB program.  

That included Emmanuel, the eighth-grade class president at the French bilingual immersion school. He provided insightful analysis of the pop culture hit, Wakanda, Forever, connecting it to the present moment and a vision for the future in his talk Wakanda, Our Utopia.  Teacher Diane Foster helped him in preparation.

What has stuck with him most after the TEDx project is, as he creatively put it, “comfortability.”

“Ms. Foster and the whole process made me feel more comfortable speaking out, and talking about my ideas,” Emmanuel said. “I know that will help me in life after I graduate.”

It is just that kind of comfort, the ability to “belong in the world,” that resonates from the multilingual immersion campus at EB, established in 1977 as the first of its kind in Berkeley. The school has grown since its founding and now includes a Middle School International Track, giving students like Emmanuel the opportunity to start a multilingual education later than the usual preschool or kindergarten entry-points.

EB’s founders were innovators in seeing that learning in a multilingual setting provides students with a broader perspective, helping them develop a more nuanced and confident engagement with the world. This creative and confident engagement is evident among the EB middle schoolers taking part in the TEDxYouth@EB program. For the past eight years EB has been a flagship TEDxYouth organizer, and until recently, it was the only middle school in the U.S. (or elsewhere), offering this opportunity to speak to a global audience.

Monique, an eighth-grader at Ecole Bilingue de Berkeley, talks about Josephine Baker in her TEDxYouth@EB talk. Courtesy: EB

Other EB student presenters eloquently offered real-world examples of their own abilities to relate to complex problems and articulate creative solutions. 

“On the stage is where I feel most at home,” said Monique, in The World is My Stage. She took inspiration from the life of Josephine Baker, a Black American actress who left the U.S. for France in the ’30s in response to the racism and discrimination many Black entertainers faced in America. Monique connected the struggles of the past with the struggles of the present.

Two French-American students, Valentin and Joseph, collaborated to address the very heart of the matter in Bi-culturalism for Belonging in the World. They sought to define a space for the concept of “biculturalism” vs “bilingualism,” communicating the importance of this competency for our historical moment from their own perspective as bicultural young people.

Eighth-graders Valentin and Joseph talked about their French/American bi-cultural identities in their TEDxYouth@EB talk. Courtesy: EB

Executive function and multilingualism

TEDxYouth@EB is just one of the unique opportunities “beyond the classroom,” which serve to cultivate a safe, nurturing environment for EB middle school students to hone skills in critical thinking, creative problem-solving, collaboration, adaptability, time management and empathy.

Sébastien Robert, EB Head of School. Courtesy: EB

These “executive function” skills are central to the multilingual learning environment, and part of why many believe multilingual immersion is the educational model best suited to face today’s global challenges. In addition, when multilingual learners are challenged through a curriculum like the French National core, which promotes critical thinking and problem-solving skills, those students have all the tools to thrive in a global and interconnected world. 

“Building future-ready (and pandemic-proof) education systems requires curricula fit for the 21st century,” said Sébastien Robert, EB Head of School. “That, coupled with the consistent delivery of widely accessible instruction that builds a solid foundation for a lifetime of adapting and developing new abilities.”

For more information about Ecole Bilingue de Berkeley and admission to our Middle School International Track, which provides an expanded entry point for non-French-speaking 6th graders, please visit our website.