Story of a passion

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Julie P. and I

I studied until the baccalauréat at public schools in Versailles, after which I stopped my formal education for various reasons. Although getting married was one of the primary reasons, I was also negatively influenced by the French education system, of which I retain only bad memories.

Working from the age of 18, I took courses in typing, shorthand, I learned to manage real estate projects, manage teams, make advertisements, catalogs, design models of houses, implement them on land, make price charts, everything about the interior, the model areas … and so I became in a few years National Sales Manager of a major property developer, the Company Breguet. My idea was to become the youngest sales manager in France, have the biggest salary, climb the social ladder … well, in short, a crazy ambition : I won a lot of money and, with a lot of responsibilities, had very young dozens of employees under me.

Françoise Dolto : "la cause des enfants"

Before long, my son Stanislas was born, followed by my daughter Noémie, and then Alexandre. I began reading books regarding child psychology and development at this stage, including everything relating to child education, because I did not want my children to be educated in the French system that I had detested. It was in researching these types of disciplines that I came across the work of Maria Montessori, which fueled my passion even more.

I then read all about Maria Montessori and what attracted me the most is the respect of rhythm and personality of each child, the respect of the child’s needs to learn and develop all his potential through highly developed educational materials, the fact that the teacher is an observer to guide the child, the fact that his goal is to make the child independent of the adult, giving him confidence in himself, never try to change his personality and respect him as he is.

The teacher must be a model, always caring, well prepared with its environment for the well being of children, etc …

“The child of man is not just a little man” J.J. Rousseau

 

The teacher : a model for children

Another thing that was very important to me was the great need for the adults of tomorrow to be fluent in at least one foreign language or even two. For this reason, I also read various books about teaching languages for children and wanted my children to learn a second language from their 2 ½ year (sensitive period of language) as a first language.

 

Early learning of several languages

As a result of my newfound passion, I looked for a Montessori school and found one at St-Nom-la-Breteche where I enrolled my eldest son, Stanislas, in September 1989. This school was created by an extraordinary woman who initially had a few pupils at home and then received permission from the town’s Mayor to build a school. Beeing very interested in this school, I quickly became part of the parents association and also became close friends with the school’s creator, doing then my apprenticeship with a lot of presence in the classroom.

 

Force to be alive

A few months later, my daughter Noémie, then aged 2 years, became extremely ill. She suffered a lot, cried all the time and her condition was deteriorating day after day, this for months where the doctors could not find what she had. I was convinced that she had cancer but no one believed me. After three months of horror, the sentence fell : she had leukemia with a very low survival rate. The treatment was 3 years of chemotherapy with 3 months locked in solitary confinement in a hospital… And three years of hell for the whole family…

 I led the fight for Noémie in hospitals where I saw things I would not want anyone : children who are suffering, some who have always lived in the hospital since birth and who did probably never come out, some who die and others who cry because they are in pain, others who cry because they are alone, parents sad, helpless, lost, children who can not eat, speak, play, children with infections, and my little girl I could not touch without gloves, I could not kiss without a mask, my little girl who could not speak, who could not walk, who could not eat and lost weight by eye, who was no longer laughing, no longer smiling, who had the eyes of death …

 

Noémie's 20 years birthday

With the constant fear of not knowing if tomorrow she would be alive, if she would return in a month at home … And what about his big brother Stanislas 3 years old who claimed all the time, who asked a thousand anxious questions about his little sister, questions for which we had no satisfying answers. And how to look after his younger brother six months, Alexandre, while all the attention, all the energy and presence were all turned to Noémie that I decided never to leave alone in the hospital and do everything to heal.

Develop sense of the child

I then said I had to change my life – this event was not for nothing – and that I had been going down the wrong path. That’s why I decided to begin a formal Montessori training while also following other courses.

Feet painting... Why not ?

As the owner of the Saint-Nom-la-Bretèche school began thinking about retirement, she asked if I would like to take over her school, and I immediately accepted. My goal was to sign up my other children, so that my daughter and her brothers would be able to have a happy childhood, especially during Noémie’s recovery. As she was in chemotherapy, it was essential that Noemie remain in a germ free environment, with fewer children. She was very fragile, slowly relearning to walk, and could not be rushed. In addition, she was bald and I did not want others to make fun of her. 

I was also told that we must consistently communicate the desire to live and fight. It was therefore essential that the environment be jovial and positive, showing her that life is beautiful, happy and worth living.

I also wanted to ensure that teachers who took care of her (and her older brother) have the principles used in Montessori : that they respect them, do not force them, do not judge, and include them in making decisions. Noémie both fragile and so strong and Stanislas, so young, so mature and yet so vulnerable.

And as Noémie was very intelligent and very curious, it was also essential that she was able to go to school with this unique method which enabled her to learn and think about something other than her illness, weakness, and hospital stays.

Decorating the school's door

This is the origin of the school that I created.

Just a “mom” who lives a painful ordeal and decides to found a school to allow her children, also marked by this event, to cross it as well as possible, learn in the best atmosphere possible, with very adult well prepared for the best help in their development, to enable them to gain self-confidence, autonomy, a taste of happiness, a thirst for life that enable them to manage the trials of life.

In 1991 I opened two kindergarten classes in Noisy-le-Roi : one in French in the morning (afternoon English) and in English in the morning (and French in the afternoon). Noémie continued her heavy treatment but my three children grew and thrived beautifully in their school, learning very well and always happy to go to school.

Maria Montessori

I continued along with my Montessori training for children aged 6 to 9, and 9 to 12. The president of the Montessori Association of North America came to visit three times – to make placements, as there was nothing in France. At the same time, I trained as an astro-psychoanalyst in Paris. My goal was to have a better background and enhance my understanding of child development.

As Stanislas grew, I asked myself the question: do I move beyond kindergarten classes and start primary classes ? Without hesitation, I decided to continue with primary school.

Focus on Worksheets

Meanwhile, Noémie had completed her chemotherapy. But to know whether she was in remission, we had to wait her 7 year. When that day came, it was a huge celebration for our family, a great moment of happiness. It was at this point that I set a life’s mission to always help children. My life was now devoted to it, I wanted to give them everything I could to make sure that my school led to a happy, fulfilling life. I wanted to share the joy of life, confidence in themselves (and adults) so they go through the trials and become valuable people capable of helping others, of building something beautiful ; help them to love themselves and appreciate their own worth, to be eager to learn, to find all their own path. 

Mostly I wanted them to know that I would not judge, I would accept them as they are with their qualities and faults, I would give them everything I could without asking anything in return. This is one of the foundations of my school. Above all, everything I put in place is based on these principles.

And for me, all this is my life choice, my happiness…

Take off...

Another basis for my school has always been to put myself in the place of the child: for example, my principle to let them go to the toilets whenever they want is based on the question : as adults, would we accept that a decision about the time we go to the toilets be made by someone else ? Do we want to go to the toilets at the same time that all our comrades do ? I think we would all answer : No ! Yet the majority imposes this on pupils…

Another principle that I always had in mind when developing my school was : what will they need as adults ? This is one reasons why I insist that students be taught English, Spanish, and also Chinese. It is also one of the reasons for my aversion to silly punishments such as ‘detention’, which does not teach any self-discipline.

The Gordon method.

In a very interesting conference on the Gordon Method, “How to talk to children so that they listen… and listen to our children speak”, the psychologist explained a basic principle : if the punishments were producing results, one would be enough … In the business world, it’s not because we are afraid of the punishment that we do our job well, but because we have a desire to do things well. So do we teach something interesting to young people with the punishment ? No !

And I remind that this is one of the main principles of Maria Montessori: no punishment, no reward !

Find happiness to blossom at school

Stanislas and Noémie soon came to the end of primary school. What to do ? I had thought about enrolling Stanislas in an International School, as he was fluent in English, but when I saw the impressive size of this establishment, and the obvious anonymity that resulted, I thought I’d open a secondary school.

One of the problems, however, is that in traditional French Montessori, there is no Junior High or High school. So I asked for help from the President of the Montessori Association of North America, who gave me valuable advice and encouraged me whilst I developed this project. And during all of those years, we allowed so many children to regain the joy of going to school and find ways to succeed in life !

Feng-shui

To establish certain principles, I continued to read everything I could find on the different educational systems in France (and other countries). I followed many varied formative methods, including, graphology, feng-shui and positive communication …  

I had long talks with psychologists and I continued to develop thoughts and observations, constantly trying to adjust my principles to improve education. I remain convinced that, in the words of Maria Montessori, no method should be static but must be constantly changing to keep providing very strong core values.

Find a solution for each

I decided to accept the different children (dyslexics, precocious, etc …) and manage all these students on an individual basis according to their specificities ; my only goal was to enable them to succeed in life and above all trust in life, in the adult, want to move forward, to continue, to believe … and create a facility where we do not break the children, where they are not asked to return in a mold, where we do not change their personalities, where they are taken as they are, sensitive remaining sensitive with a little more strength, the rebels remaining rebels but learning to manage their aggressiveness…

The gifted children can skip classes, and can complete their studies 1, 2 or 3 years in advance of schedule, while maintaining their low maturity ; dyslexic children are not discouraged but understood and encouraged ; we believe they can succeed… and they do succeed !… And school phobias, thanks to schedules and workloads, disappear, and students resume their desire to be in school and gradually rework and ultimately succeed; not to mention all those that other institutions exclude or steer towards wrong tracks where their dreams are no longer feasible.

And all these young people continue to say to me :

” -keep going like this ! Without this school, we would never have succeeded. Nobody believed in us ;  you were the first person who believed in us and you led us to success…”

In this lies the essential part of my teaching : I believe in these young people, and I remain convinced that they all have tremendous potential and it is up to us, with all the love, support, assistance, encouragement, and promotion we can, to help them believe in themselves to succeed and lead to end their life plan.

It is essential to have some very strict requirements, but very few requirements, and above all with tolerance. At first ask very little from the children, and gradually a little more and differently for each child. 

everyone is different.

The most important observation made ​​by Maria Montessori, wich we must always keep in mind, is that everyone is different, so we must act differently towards each child. When we explain our attitude, when we are a perpetual example to them, they understand why we have a different requirement to everyone.

I imagined this pedagogy at first with the desire to create a different school of the traditional French. I then based its development on the principles of Maria Montessori with an adaptation to modern life, on reading many books relating to all current pedagogies and then, as Maria Montessori, on the observation of children.

Former students become teachers

There are of course adaptations to be made, and research to be done (with respect to dyslexia, dyspraxia, hyperactive, anorexia…) There are new goals to achieve (humanitarian programs, exchanges with schools in other countries…), better understand child problems, help young people find solutions (drugs, alcohol, truancy …), adaptations to find in our education using new tools like the Internet…

That’s what’s exciting : nothing is final (except the values ​​and objectives), we are always challenging ourselves to improve and bring something better. However, one thing remains constant, we must above all be examples for these children.

Together, the future with confidence

A new school in september 2012

This work I want to continue with a new school from September 2012 wich will be located in Bailly (78870) in the district of the Yvelines. I wish to continue to find all the joys, all the satisfaction that I have found over the years with children. I wish to find all the happiness that made ​​me continue daily despite the doubts, despite numerous objections, despite the absence of incentives, with the same enthusiasm, the same joy that I have always pushed forward and, after all these years, still drive me to seek improvements, solutions to the challenges and problems we encounter daily in the education of children.

Sylvie Rousseau-d’Esclaibes

 

 

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