Richland nonprofit overcomes financial loss to continue giving students the gift of language

A few weeks ago, Richland resident Elizabeth Porter didn’t know if the nonprofit she had founded would be able to stay afloat.

Bon Voyage World Languages Academy was started out of Porter’s home in 2013, and it currently serves over 150 students in elementary through high school.

But in the spring, $50,000 was stolen from the organization by a former employee, almost putting an end to her passion project.

“It was really emotional,” said Porter. “I could cry, because this is my dream.”

Porter was just getting ready to call families and tell them she would have to shut down the school, when a parent of one of the students stepped in with a generous donation.

“Five minutes later she wrote me (about the donation),” said Porter. “I couldn’t believe it; it was like a miracle.”

Now, Porter and her staff of 20 are moving forward, excited to welcome new students in the 2020 spring semester. Currently, they’re hoping to fill some openings in some of their classes as well as one of their Global Citizenship Immersion Programs.

Bon Voyage stands apart from many other language-learning programs and classes. A nationally board certified French teacher who has worked in the public schools, Porter wasn’t happy with the way language was being taught.

“I always had it in the back of my mind to open my own school where I could teach the way I wanted to teach,” said Porter. “The biggest thing I wanted to do was travel with my students.”

Bon Voyage classes follow a method that Porter developed called, “Language With The Five Senses.” Instead of using translations or lists of words, it focuses on visuals, body movements, songs and stories.

In addition to pushing for an ulterior method, Porter also believes traditional American education waits too long to introduce children to other languages.

“You go to Europe and by the time students are 12, they’re on their second language,” said Porter. “By the time they graduate from high school they’ve learned three.”

Porter is passionate about language for multiple reasons.

“It’s not just being able to connect with others, but the benefits to the brain are exponential,” said Porter.
Porter said students who learn languages early and who travel have increased empathy, increased executive functioning in the brain and they are more apt to work better in teams. She also said they also generally score better on standardized tests and are more likely to earn higher grades in college.

Bon Voyage’s online classes are taught by certified teachers, and the program now offers 12 languages. Homeschooled students or traditional students can sign up for the classes, which range from being offered once a week to Monday through Friday.

In addition to the classes, Bon Voyage offers an immersion program, something Porter is especially passionate about.

“I believe wholeheartedly that one of the most important pieces of education that you can give your children, and you can give yourself, is to leave the country and interact with the people, the culture and the history,” she said.

The Global Citizenship Immersion Program offers 2-week-long, 3-week-long and 4-week-long trips to France during the summer. Students live with host families, meet other students from around the world who are learning the same language and have the opportunity to go on cultural excursions. Porter said they’re currently working on immersion trips to other countries as well.

In student testimonial videos on the Bon Voyage website, students called the trip “an amazing experience” and said, “you will come away with incredible relationships and memories.”

Porter doesn’t receive a single dime from this program. She is able to run the program and pay the teachers through tuition costs, as well as money she makes from doing public speaking events and profits from a book she’s written. She hopes to apply for grants in the future as well.

“There’s nothing more rewarding to me or special to me than seeing a student lay their eyes on Paris for the first time,” said Porter. “It’s like magic, and it gets me teary because I just absolutely live for that.”

Through the end of December, Bon Voyage is offering $500 off the cost of the summer immersion trip as well as a discount off their classes. The next semester starts January 6.

For tuition costs and other information on the program, click here.