"J'adore la tarte," junior Trenesia Cheney says, giggling. She likes pie.
At first, the 16-year-old wasn't interested in taking French as her required foreign language. Now, she's taken two semesters. Next week, Caldwell will take members of Cheney's class to the Back Burner for a French meal.
Beyond that, a trip across the pond may be possible.
"He's very interesting," Cheney said. "He makes me think outside the box. Before coming in here, I never dreamed of going to Europe."
Caldwell, 64, has that kind of influence on his students. During more than 40 years of teaching at Central, Caldwell has helped students and their parents experience the world, said his boss, principal Erin Weaver. He has taken groups of students to France, Italy, the Netherlands, England, Switzerland, Germany and Belgium, according to Weaver.
This week, because of Caldwell's ability to bring resources into the classroom to expose his students to different cultures, he will be one of eight Georgians to receive the 2008 Governor's Award in the Humanities. He'll be honored with a silver medallion in Atlanta on Thursday with the others, as well as two organizations. Friday, the mayor's office also will read a proclamation in honor of Caldwell's influence.
Caldwell said he became fascinated with different cultures at an early age.
When he was about 10, he worked bagging groceries for a white family that owned a grocery store in Montgomery, Ala.
The Pruitt family took a special interest in him. They read him poems and Shakespeare. They played country songs by Hank Williams and others. All of it fueled a desire to learn about all walks of life and what makes people tick.
"I thought people were beautiful," Caldwell said. "I'm fascinated with global cultures. To me it brings out a great enhancement of human growth."
That early love of learning about others whet an appetite for learning French. In high school he perfected his pronunciation by listening to tape recordings of the language over and over.
Caldwell earned a bachelor's degree in history and French from Alabama State University, followed by a master's in secondary education so he could teach the language to high school students.
In 1968, he became just the second black teacher at Lanier High School, a formerly all-white school for boys that eventually became part of Central High.
"He was the first black teacher I ever had. When I first came into his class, I thought he was from Haiti," said Randy Harshbarger, one of Caldwell's former students. "You knew right away he had a good accent - and it sounded authentic."
It wasn't until years later that Harshbarger learned that Caldwell had yet to travel to Europe.
"One thing he showed us was that he loved the language," said Harshbarger, now an associate professor of interdisciplinary studies who teaches French at Mercer University. Caldwell was a major influence on his studies and his career interests, he said.
"He expected a lot out of us, to memorize dialogues, have good pronunciation and a good accent. When I went off to college, I realized I was better prepared."
Caldwell has instilled a love for and understanding of the humanities on others and also has taken an active role with Historic Macon, since he lives in a historic bungalow on Napier Avenue, according to the Georgia Humanities Council. He is also a member of the Opera Guild.
There were about 35 nominations for the state award this year, according to Laura T. McCarty, vice president of the Georgia Humanities Council.
The award, now in its 23rd year, is about recognizing individuals and organizations that have provided long service to humanities education and public programs in Georgia. Recipients may be master educators, such as Caldwell, or volunteers, patrons, staff members of cultural organizations, or the organizations themselves.Caldwell was nominated by Weaver, Bette Lou Brown of the Historic Macon Foundation and Sarah Brown, a former student who is now a teacher on assignment to the Georgia Department of Education. Other midstate humanitarian award winners this year include Sen. George Hooks of Americas and Lee Ann Caldwell of Milledgeville.
Yasmine Williams (left), was selected as a Governor's Honors nominee in the area of technology. The photo at right shows the CHS students nominated in fine arts areas. Back row (left to right): Almisha Tobler (music/violin), Benjamin Dean Fuller (visual arts), Rachel Soracco (visual arts), Kyla Danielle Gwyn (music/violin). Middle row: Emma Brown (dance), Leah Parris (dance). Front row: Nicole Castro (visual arts).