Overcoming the past for a daughter’s future at Ecole Jean-Jacques Rousseau

Thanks to guest blogger Charlene Dlabaj for sharing her story of a single mom’s struggle to give her child a better education than her own. Charlie is a parent and volunteer at Austin French for Kids (also known as Ecole Jean-Jacques Rousseau, or JJR), a French immersion school in North Austin.

As a single mother with limited income, yet also one who is adamant about an exceptional education for my child, it probably would have been most prudent for me to have chosen to live in a district with relatively good public schools or to have chosen a free charter school. While I did consider these options as well as many others, including homeschooling, I did not allow money to be the deciding factor.

I cannot say how many hours I spent researching schools all over the state. Many factors were important to me in choosing a school, but basically, I just wanted to find the all-around best choice, regardless of cost. I was prepared to find a way to make it happen—one way or another!

I wanted my child to have the opportunities I never had. Sounds cliché, but it’s true.

Public school did not prepare me for a successful career in adulthood. Most teachers in public schools work hard at doing right by their students, but my particular school, like so many others, was too focused on getting kids through the system and getting its football players to the championships. There was very little for those of us who excelled at the arts—but hey, our football team was unbeatable!

However well I could have done academically was lost because of ignorance about different learning styles and multiple types of intelligence. I was placed in the proverbial box that wasn’t the right size or shape for me, and therefore my potential was stunted.

While my parents were aware of my talents in the arts, they had little advice or help to offer me on how to pursue these interests. School was my only resource, and it failed me. Discouraged, I went in another direction and ended up in a series of low-paying and thankless jobs that taught me one thing above all: for most individuals, an authentic, individualized education is crucial for real success.

I became determined to make sure that my child had the opportunity to reach optimal success through a well-rounded education. It would be very unfortunate for a child to miss out on the chance to study a field that requires academic excellence simply because they were not given the opportunity to prove their abilities in school. On the other hand, it would be equally unfortunate for a child with a different type of intelligence to go uninspired simply because a school treats traditional academics as all-important. That is why I was thrilled to find the right balance for my child at Ecole Jean-Jacques Rousseau!

When I tell people that my daughter goes to a French immersion school, they always ask me why I feel French is so important. What I always have to explain is that it was not the French language that led me to choose this school. While learning other languages is really helpful for educational purposes, and I like the idea of language immersion, as well as the fact that they also offer Spanish, Latin, Italian, and Arabic classes, language was only one of many reasons:

  • I like that it is family owned and that the family members are teachers. My daughter gets all the attention and affection a small child needs from her teachers and is treated like part of an extended family.
  • I like that the school is small and that the ratios are incredibly low, usually between 3 and 5 kids per teacher in a school with about 20 to 25 kids total, pre-K through 12th grade.
  • I like that my daughter will have the same teachers, friends, and stable educational/social environment for her entire childhood until she graduates.
  • I like that academics are taken seriously, but that the arts are also a high priority, as the school offers theater, art class, choir, and guitar and violin lessons, with end-of-the-year performances.
  • Another bonus is that it is about half the cost of the “best,” more expensive schools that fell short of my expectations. It is not easy for someone like me to pay tuition of any kind, but it is doable if I set it as the highest priority. That means others in similar circumstances can, too.

Happy, hard-working students at Ecole Jean-Jacques Rousseau

Above all, at JJR there is an acute awareness that the students will use the education they are getting to have fulfilling lives, helping the world to evolve into a better place. The reason the staff at JJR are able to do this is because they understand the multiple types of intelligence that require educators to assess their students’ individual needs, talents, and passions. This is the element that is so crucial to a happy, healthy, well-adjusted adulthood.

After all my research, I was thrilled to find a school that prepares children for any careers they want as well as teaching them to be true to themselves as creative, sentient, and social beings.

Charlene Dlabaj