Students from around Central Kentucky are finding the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games offer a world of educational opportunities, including chances to sharpen their language skills.
That is why teacher Sherrel May told her Jessie Clark Middle School eighth-grade class to brush up on their French when she learned that they would be visiting the games at the Kentucky Horse Park on Wednesday.
"I had them go over some common things that they might say if they met anyone at the games who was French, such as 'Can I take your picture?'" May explained. "I told them that if they got stuck and couldn't think of anything else, to just say 'Vive la France!'"
May got into the mood by wearing a World Equestrian Games T-shirt with all the printing in French. May, who has taught French for most of her 33 years in education, is an enthusiastic Francophile and tries to visit France at least every other year or so.
During their visit to the games Wednesday, May's students snapped pictures and watched in awe as beautiful horses danced and pranced during the dressage competition — dressage being a French word, after all. They looked at pictures, checked out French foods and exchanged a few halting phrases in French with the folks manning the Normandy exhibit at the games. Normandy will be the host for the equestrian games in 2014.
All in all, it was a unique opportunity for the students to get a taste of France, and the wider world, right at home in Lexington. They didn't even seem to mind walking about 2 miles to see the exhibits.
May's French students were part of a contingent of about 140 children from Jessie Clark who visited the games Wednesday, and hundreds more were bused to the horse park from other Fayette County schools. More than 17,000 Fayette County students will be visiting the horse park over the course of the Games or taking in some of the accompanying entertainment being presented in downtown Lexington, school district officials say. Thousands of schoolchildren from surrounding counties are also sampling the Games' international flavor.
All told, Alltech estimates 52,000 students from around the area will visit the equestrian games over the next several days — for free. Alltech and its industry partners have raised about $1.25 million to cover the cost of the kids' admission. Alltech and its partners have launched several efforts to boost attendance at the Games.
The Fayette County School District is providing buses and drivers to transport its students to and from the Games. The school system also is providing snacks for students making partial-day visits to the Games, and lunch when they get back to their schools. Fayette high school students who are making all-day visits to the Games are responsible for their own lunches, district officials said.
Amid the sights and sounds of different countries Wednesday, it was the horses that seemed to impress youngsters the most. Even kids who knew little about horses were enthralled.
Ondreal Baker, 14, an eighth-grader at Jessie Clark, said she had never seen dressage before and didn't know much about it. But she was still amazed at the way the horses effortlessly performed.
"They're just so pretty," she said.
Clinton Hamilton, 13, of Lexington, used a digital camera to shoot pictures and video of horses and riders going through their paces in dressage. He said he'd show the pictures at home for his family to enjoy.
Aaliyah Chapman, 13, of Lexington, said watching dressage made her want to go riding herself. Her uncle, who lives in Illinois, has three horses, and she sometimes gets to ride them, she said.
"I love horses," Aaliyah said.
Morgan Carlson, 13, who says she sometimes goes riding when she visits her grandparents in Florida, said she was amazed that animals so big can move so gracefully.
"It's kind of an art form, the way I see it," she said. "It's like a cooperation between the horse and rider. If they're not comfortable, it's not going to work well."
As the students headed back to their buses, Sherrel May said she'll use the visit to the Games as material in her classes for the next several days. Among other things at the Normandy exhibit she found some French recipes, which she and her students might prepare.
That, she said, would be a real taste of France.