French students win first place at French Symposium


Shelley Stein

The French students assemble after the awards ceremony.

Eli Maierson and Noura Jabir

For the first time, Maverick French students won first place overall at the annual Texas French Symposium competition last month.

The School’s team accumulated 18 first place medals, four plaques for top ten finishers and a trophy for first place overall. Sophomore Jordan Fullen, a French I student, won first place for overall points earned, and junior Raunak Kundagrami, who is in French Seminar, won second.

Students competed at Symposium, held March 23 and 24 at the Woodlands High, in theatrical performance, fine arts and academic categories. They were accompanied by French teachers Shelley Stein and Jacqueline Vest, as well as English teacher and Francophile Brian Beard, who accompanied the group as a male chaperone as well as one of the school’s judges.

Students started the event by taking four 20-minute tests in grammar, vocabulary, civilization and listening. Some preliminary events, such as Prose (in which competitors read a selected text to a judge) and Drama Group, were held on the first night, but the bulk of the competition took place the next day.

Due to the early start of competition on the second day, the team stayed at Hyatt Place the Woodlands for the night. Juliana Aviles, a member of the Drama Group and Vocal Group, considers the overnight stay an important part of Symposium.

“You get to bond with people in French, and you get to have a good time, whether you’re studying last minute or just chilling,” Aviles said.

The team spent the second day competing in and practicing for events while immersing themselves in French culture by attending a French film festival and exploring the art exhibit and other displays inspired by this year’s theme, the Roaring 20s (Les Années Folles). Popular events at Symposium include Poetry Recitation, Prose and Drama Group.

Freshman Grace Nockolds enjoyed the opportunity to get to know her fellow competitors through practicing lines and talking during meals.

“It was fun being surrounded by people that were passionate about French,” Nockolds said. “It shows how a language can bring together a wide variety of students.”

Out of 756 total competitors, the team had four members place within the top ten: Fullen won first place, Kundagrami finished second, freshman Charlotte Gillard earned fourth and junior Sophie Gillard placed ninth.

As the top two winners from the competition, Kundagrami and Fullen were offered the opportunity to attend the French Language Camp from Concordia Language Villages this summer to practice their French skills and learn about different dialects.

As the overall winner, Fullen also received the Claude Boutin Award of Excellence in French, named after a beloved teacher of French at Fort Bend Christian Academy who died in 2016. Boutin was also the founder of ORCA, a homestay exchange program for French and American students through which the Symposium winners used to travel to France.

Fullen credits Vest for his success.

“Madame Vest has helped me a lot this year with my pronunciation and the writing of the French language,” Fullen said. “Her help was invaluable because, over time, it has really helped me with speaking and understanding the French language in general.”

Before the competition, Fullen had doubts about whether his French skills were developed enough for Symposium.

“Madame Vest had high hopes for me going into Symposium, which made me extremely nervous,” Fullen said. “I didn’t feel like my French was at the caliber it needed to be to compete well against other French I students, and I didn’t want to disappoint her.”

Despite his success, Fullen knows that he still has work to do in order to achieve a mastery of the language.

“I’m a little bit of a perfectionist, so I’m not going to be happy until I can really speak fluidly and conversationally,” Fullen said.