Students shine once again at district French speech contest

The history of birthdays, politeness, toast, and the lost art of letter-writing.
These were the topics of some of the winning speeches from the annual Concours d’art oratoire last Thursday night in Emo, where students from across the district demonstrated their French-speaking ability.
This year, 18 students in three divisions recited their carefully-prepared speeches in front of a crowd of family and friends at the Emo Legion, with the judges and questioners listening closely.
The students already had competed at the school level before advancing to the concours.
“It’s really difficult to come up and speak, and even more difficult to do so in a second language,” said Meghan Cornock, curriculum co-ordinator for the Northwest Catholic District School Board.
“It’s wonderful to see young people taking up the challenge.”
The concours is presented each year through a partnership between the board and the local chapter of Canadian Parents for French, whose goal is to promote French programs in schools and to enhance the quality of French education.
“We’re really pleased the school board does this in partnership with us,” said Marie Brady, president of the local CPF chapter. “They’re always very supportive.”
In the Core French division, Heather Sieders, a Grade 8 student at St. Francis School, took first place for her speech about birthdays, how they were celebrated in the past, and how they are celebrated in different cultures.
Sieders is a veteran of the concours, having won third place last year for her speech, “If I were a celebrity.”
Second place went to Josh Zimmerman of Our Lady of the Way School for his speech about his favourite NHL players, particularly former goalie Patrick Roy.
And Deirdre Wilson of Riverview School took third place for her speech about “Scooby Doo”—the famous cartoon character from TV and movies.
Other competitors in the Core French division included Kristina Burner and Ursula Chojko-Bolec (Our Lady of the Way), Brenly Anderson (Riverview), and Lynessa Frenette (St. Francis).
In the French Immersion division, students were divided into elementary Grades 7/8 (St. Francis), secondary Grades 9/10, and secondary Grades 11/12.
In the elementary category, Jillian Kellar took first with her speech about “la politesse” and the importance of being polite.
Michael Brady took second place for his humorous speech about what makes a good friend. He asked several multiple choice questions for audience members to think about, including “If a friends calls you up to ask for money, do you say: a). ‘No way’ b). ‘Do you promise to pay me back?’ or c). ‘Sure, no problem.’”
Third place went to Nathan Jodoin for his comic speech about Canadian icons Bob and Doug McKenzie.
Among the Grade 9/10 French Immersion students, Annelise Hawrylak won first place for her well-researched piece about toast, including where it originated and the chemical process that occurs inside a toaster.
Elizabeth Black took second for her speech—a story narrated in the first person about a young girl in Sri Lanka who lost her home and most of her family in the Boxing Day tsunami.
Third place went to Katie Blais for her speech about the Holocaust.
And in the Grade 11/12 category, Dayna DeBenedet took first place for her speech about the lost art of letter-writing.
She gave tips how to keep the reader’s attention in a letter, and shared an example of a letter she wrote telling how she recently was chased by sharks while swimming to the grocery store.
Second place was awarded to Laura Busch for her speech about the historical buildings she saw on the Fort High band’s recent trip to Europe, and compared them to Fort Frances’ historical sites.
Third place went to Jenna-Rae Cousineau, who talked about the winter sports she enjoys.
The last division was French as a First Language, with two sisters from St. Francis—Meagan and Christina Empey—competing. Meagan, the younger of the two, took first place, defeating her sister by only one point.
Meagan’s speech was on holidays while Christina talked about the joys of snow.
All first-, second-, and third-place students earned $50 gift certificates for Chapters. First-place students also won $75 while those in second-place took home an additional $25.
All participants got gift bags.
The judges were Louis Quesnel, Tara Carpenter, and Melanie Béchard. Dr. Carol Begin and Marie-Josée Potvin were the questioners.
Students were judged on their level of vocabulary, the development of their chosen theme, their rapport with the audience, variations in the pitch and volume of their voice, and their answers to questions from Begin and Potvin.
Cornock said she was pleased to see an increase in participation this year, with 18 students competing compared to 14 a year ago.
“The definite value is students being able to utilize their second language,” she said. “It’s a real confidence-builder for young people to be able to deliver a speech.”
As the newly-appointed curriculum co-ordinator with the local Catholic school board, this was Cornock’s first concours.
“I thought it was fantastic,” she enthused.