Viva la French school

Oak Parker's business growing in the Oak Park Arts District

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By Timothy Inklebarger

Staff Reporter

Parlez-vous français?

If you don't know what that means, then you don't speak French. A new school in Oak Park wants to remedy the situation.

L'Institut français d'Oak Park launched in 2016, with its first classes operating out of a space upstairs from Blue Max Coffee in Forest Park. The school only had a couple of full-time students and handful of drop-ins.

Three years later, Stacy Fifer, owner and founder of the school, occupies two storefront spaces on Harrison Street in the Oak Park Arts District and has nearly 100 adult and teen students eager to learn the language or improve their skills and four paid instructors.

Shortly after offering her first classes in Forest Park, Fifer moved to an unused Sunday school classroom St. Christopher's Episcopal Church in Oak Park.

Fifer continued in at the church through 2017, but by then she had 40 students and was still growing.

She began renting the space at 11 Harrison St. in 2018 and has recently expanded to a second storefront in the business district.

"Being down there has brought me business because it's brought more awareness," she said.

Prior to having her own storefront, Fifer was advertising the old-fashioned way – word of mouth recommendations from former students and posting flyers at restaurants and coffee shops around town. She also spreads the word about the school through social media outlets, she said.

The classes are offered to adults and "mature teens" who are given tips on how to integrate into an adult classroom setting.

Fifer, who has a Ph.D. in French and taught the language at the university level for 15 years – most recently at University of Illinois at Chicago – said her courses are at the university level.

L'Institut français d'Oak Park offers a series of seven classes for beginners and advanced courses ranging from intermediate grammar to advanced literature.

She conducts oral interviews for prospective students who might not know exactly at which level to enroll.

Fifer said she's still amazed that her school has grown so quickly.

"It's been exciting; I've been surprised and delighted along the way that it's gone so well," she said.

Over the last few years, the school has grown into something more than a place to learn the language.

"It has also developed into this community where I really enjoy watching the students get together," she said.

She said some of the students meet outside of class in study sessions at places like Léa French Street Food in downtown Oak Park.

Fifer is holding an open house for the school on Sept. 10 from 5 to 8 p.m., and is holding a raffle with a chance to win 20 percent off of fall tuition.

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