Students, parents and teachers of Edgemont Elementary held a surprise bon voyage party for principal Dennis Pratt Tuesday to see him off to Paris.

Pratt is leaving Saturday to accept an award from the French government on behalf of the school. The French Ministry of Education will recognize Edgemont for its outstanding French language instruction -- LabelFrancEducation -- a distinction granted to only 17 schools worldwide, seven of which are in Utah.

"I am really surprised," Pratt told the student body when he was escorted in. "Don't you know you're suppose to plan things with the principal?"

Pratt was greeted with the music of the Timpview High School jazz bands and students waving handmade French flags. Mayor John Curtis and representatives from the Provo School District and school board also were part of the celebration.

"I am so excited for your school to represent Provo clear over in Paris," Curtis told the children. "I wish Mr. Pratt well on his trip and to give a special thanks to the teachers here for being such dedicated educators and making the award possible."

Gaye Gibbs, director of instruction and Title One at the district, said, "This puts Provo on the international map as one of the best schools in the world. Behind every successful school is a successful leader. We also commend our great teachers."

In an official statement on the award Pratt said, "This is a great honor. We're proud to be referred to by the French government as 'one of the most Francophile states in the country.' I'm very proud of the high quality of our teachers and support staff, as well as the wonderful support our parents give and especially the achievement of our amazing students that have helped us receive this special distinction."

Principals and headmasters of the winning schools will be flown to Paris for a three-day conference as guests of the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Agency for the Teaching of French to Foreigners. The conference will allow these educators to exchange their best ideas with French teachers and to discuss immersion programs.

Pratt, who speaks Italian, said they applied for this distinction in the spring and received the news they had won in July.

"We made the application, but we didn't know the benefits," Pratt said. "One of the stipulations was we had to have a native French teacher at the school."

Edgemont is one of 544 schools in the U.S. that offer dual language programs, according to The Center for Applied Linguistics. Of those, 114 have French immersion classes. Edgemont teaches 225 children in their French program, which goes through fourth grade.

"We are thrilled to receive this special distinction from the French government," Provo School District spokeswoman Laken Cannon said. "All of the credit goes to our high quality teachers and staff, hard-working students and involved parents found at Edgemont Elementary. They are what makes this school exceptional and worthy of such incredible, worldwide recognition."

"Provo School District's dual language immersion programs allow students who complete the program the opportunity to become fluent in a new language by the time he or she exits sixth grade," Cannon said. "As global markets become even more integrated, these advanced language skills will prove priceless when our students begin looking for jobs. It is important that we as a school system ensure our students develop specialized, marketable skills as early as possible, and the dual immersion program lets us start that process in first grade." 

The district has immersion programs in French, Spanish, Chinese and Portuguese. It also will be starting a school that focuses on science, technology and math next year.