Celebrating Maine Heritage Through a Love of Language: Meet Jonna Bouré

My dad did not speak French, but my grandparents did. I always knew they could speak another language, but it was hidden,” said Jonna Bouré, French and Spanish Teacher at Caribou High School. From an early age Bouré developed a love for genealogy, which followed her through her own education journey at Bowdoin College in Brunswick and into her career as a world languages teacher in Maine.

“I realized I had background in Acadia and Quebec. When I moved to Caribou, I started teaching Acadian history. A lot of the kids that I work with and have worked with had grandparents who dealt with laws where they could not speak French and because of that, many of my students did not know a lot about their heritage or the French language,” said Bouré.

Bouré worries that the loss of language and culture may be exacerbated during the pandemic, noting that non-essential border crossing between Maine and Canada has prevented families who have relatives on either side of the border from going back and forth to spend time with one another, celebrate their culture, and practice their language skills.

Following her passion for genealogy, language, and history, Bouré now makes it her mission to work with students to learn about their history and talk to their parents and grandparents in French. Through interactive lessons, her students taught vocabulary and commands in French, culminating in a live theater presentation of Cinderella for hundreds of elementary students. Currently, her AP French class is recording a short video about being proud of their Acadian heritage for a contest. As an up-coming project, her students are preparing lessons for an after-school program called “Petits Acadiens/Little Acadians” for 2nd through 4th graders.

Bouré’s work toward highlighting the need and importance of language immersion programs was highlighted recently in a Bangor Daily News article about Noah Ouellette, the K-12 education coordinator at the French consulate in Boston who came to Caribou High School to talk about dual language programs. Maine is well positioned for grants and teacher exchanges with France, since it has the highest percentage of French speakers by population of any U.S. state.

Bouré hopes to get her students more interested in language immersion programing, mentioning a recent interaction with a local nursing student. “There is a language barrier because the community members speak French and there is only one person in our nursing program who speaks it,” recalls Bouré from the conversation. “Having bilingual programs would help fill in the cracks. In a place like northern Maine where we have the highest population of French speakers in the US, we need to utilize that history.”

As stated in the Bangor Daily News Article, the Maine Department of Education (DOE) is currently preparing to launch a task force to identify what is needed to bring more immersion and world language teachers to the state and introduce bilingual programs in public schools.

“For bilingual programs to take root and be successful in Maine, it will take the passion and hard work of educators like Jonna, who know their communities, can leverage relationships and local resources, and can inspire community members with a vision of what a bilingual program can bring,” said Maine DOE World Languages & ESOL/Bilingual Programs Specialist April Perkins. “The Department is eager to partner with educators and support their leadership, which is so essential to this initiative.”