The principal of a school in a distressed Parisian neighborhood, France Benainous-Guntz has worked with a broad range of children, challenges, and schools in the Paris region and brings decades of educational excellence and innovation to ILAET. After starting her career as a middle-school French teacher, primarily in economically and socially disadvantaged suburbs of Paris, she decided that her main contribution to education would be as an administrator, including developing new approaches to address the special problems of children in difficulty. In 2002, she was awarded the honor of the Palmes Académiques for outstanding services and major contributions to French national education, as Chevalier (Knight of the Order of Academic Palms).
Her work as a principal of suburban schools with large, unassimilated immigrant populations led her to look for new ways of engaging students to not only develop the basic skills that schools need to provide, but also to bring them closer to French culture and society. This led her to consistently seek out local partners, ranging from local associations, municipal leaders, police departments, to private sector firms and representatives of the cultural and sports community.
France always seeks new learning tools to actively engage both children and their parents. She has paid special attention to “catch-up” programs for young people who have dropped out or are dropping out of school, and those who are handicapped with learning disabilities, targeting them for observation, contact, and innovation. Her work with learning disabled children led her to establish a pioneering pilot program called Unité Pédagogique Intégrée pour déficients intellectuels (UPI) to provide a path for integrating them into mainline school systems, ensuring they have daily contact with other students. She has been involved with the design and oversight of UPI, which is currently being extended to other schools in the region.
France has traveled extensively and overseen international student exchange programs across Europe and in Latin America. Starting in the second half of 2009, she is dedicating herself to these programs to open up the educational process to students in advanced economies who are less actively engaged in school systems. She believes that technology, which can also offer time-consuming distractions for children, needs to be harnessed more effectively to support creative and active learning that deeply engages students and prepares them for the future.