While other teens likely spent their summer vacations playing video games or hanging out at the swimming pool, 16-year-old Slade Sinak did something decidedly different.
He worked out myriad details and logistics for a French-language competition he devised earlier this year.
Following months of prep work, the inaugural competition was held Nov. 5 at Highland Park High School where Sinak, a junior, studies Level 4 Advanced Placement French and serves as vice president of the French Club.
Nearly 170 students in grades seven through 12, representing more than a dozen schools throughout DFW, participated in Le Concours de Texas, which translates to “The Contest of Texas.”
The event tested skills in French grammar, vocabulary, and culture as well as dictée, a language-dictation exercise that is a popular pastime in France.
“The way that we have the National Spelling Bee on television here [in the U.S.], [in France] they’ve got the national dicte’e on television,” Sinak explained.
Le Concours de Texas was similar in format to the small handful of other French-language competitions held nationally and in Texas each year during the spring. According to Sinak, it is the only one of its kind that is presented during the fall.
Ribbons, medals, and trophies were awarded to the top three scorers in each of the test categories and in the competition’s five academic levels, as well as to the schools with the highest overall scores.
Sinak has participated in several French-language competitions, as well as numerous UIL-sponsored mathematics and science events. “I sort of know how they work, and I thought I could probably pull one off,” he explained.
With help from classmate William Cerny, Sinak prepared every aspect of the competition from promoting it on social media to rounding up teacher volunteers and sponsors, and even to penning the test questions.
He enlisted the help of his HPHS French teacher Sandra Simmons and former teacher Dr. Celeste Renza-Guren to proofread the test questions. The tests also were graded by teachers and former teachers.
During the daylong event, he worked largely behind the scenes helping to oversee the testing process.
Having competed in other academic competitions, he said, “It was fun to be on that side of it, for sure.”
Sinak began learning French in middle school and quickly became enamored with the language loaded with homonyms and other complexities.
“French is a mental puzzle all the time,” he said. “I like being challenged, and I think French is particularly interesting just because of how difficult it is to [understand] certain bits of it.”
With only 125 students enrolled in HPHS’s six French classes, teen francophones there form a tightknit community, Sinak said.
Competitions like Le Concours de Texas can inspire people and make language more interesting than it can be just in the classroom, he said. “I wanted to provide that for other people.”
Simmons and Renza-Guren both volunteered at the event, along with several HPHS Spanish teachers.
Simmons said she was “extremely impressed” with Sinak’s organization.
“He’s very courageous in the French sense [of the word], which means he dares to do things,” Simmons said.
Sinak is already looking toward the next contest.
“William and I have a list running of things we want to improve on,” he said. They may restructure tests into several exams that correlate with the varying levels of French that the competing students study in school.
What won’t change, Sinak said, is the enjoyment he gets from watching other teens explore the language.
“It was really cool to see middle schoolers having French conversations and asking teachers what something meant just because of something I started.”
For a complete list of winners, visit leconcoursdetexas.com/results.html