Estelle De Oliveira works educating children using French immersion.
French School of San Antonio co-founder Estelle De Oliveira works with children using French language immersion. Credit: Courtesy / Judy McCarter

When Parisian teacher Estelle De Oliveira moved with her family to San Antonio in 2015, she wanted to find a school that would allow her children to continue their French language education. De Oliveira discovered that San Antonio, primarily populated by English and Spanish speakers, didn’t have a French elementary school. In fact, the closest one is in Austin.

After enrolling her kids in what she called a “traditional American school,” De Oliveira crafted plans to start a new school that would meet the needs of her family and what she believes is a growing interest in French education in San Antonio.

In the fall, De Oliveira and business partner Katia Edrenkina will open the French School of San Antonio for students in pre-kindergarten through first grade.

Estelle De Oliveira and Katia Edrenkina Credit: Courtesy / Judy McCarter

“There is a community here in San Antonio that understands what learning French can do for children,” Edrenkina said. “Our school isn’t just for students of French speakers. … Our families are very diverse and want their students to have opportunities for travel and learning later on in life.”

The private elementary school, which will be located in the Educational Building of Northeast Baptist Church east of the San Antonio International Airport, will grow by one grade level each year. De Oliveira, who has worked in education for 15 years and has a teacher trainer certification, will serve as the head of school and Edrenkina, who has a decade-and-a-half of experience in managing businesses, will be the school’s executive director and directly manage the school’s operations.

A student’s day will be split among five subjects: language arts, mathematics, physical education, arts, and exploring the world, an overarching topic that will cover science, technology, social studies, and history. Native-speaking educators will teach in both English and French, with a language split that will evolve throughout a student’s time at the school.

In preschool and kindergarten, students will spend 80 percent of their day learning in French. In the first grade, this portion of the day decreases to 60 percent. Once the school begins offering second grade, those students also will begin learning Spanish, a process that will be eased by a strong foundation in French, Edrenkina said.

It can be challenging for non-bilingual parents to imagine their child being dropped into a French-immersive school and fully comprehending the material, De Oliveira said, noting that many prospective parents ask how students with no background in French will perform initially.

“When you don’t have a bilingual experience, it is hard to imagine your child understanding two languages at a young age,” De Oliveira said. “All of our teachers will be able to go back and forth and will be able to understand and manage the students and their needs.”

The challenges associated with learning a new language and skills at once is actually beneficial to a student, Edrenkina added. She cited a 2015 University of Chicago study that indicates students exposed to multiple languages from an early age could be better communicators later in life.

French immersion from a young age is an emphasis for the school’s founders. Edrenkina, who is Russian and currently taking French lessons, said she has a special understanding of the need to teach languages from as early as preschool.

Katia Edrenkina Credit: Courtesy / Judy McCarter

“French is a challenging language,” said Edrenkina, who speaks English, Russian, and Korean. “Studying later on in life is very difficult.”

The French School’s curriculum is based on lessons from the French Ministry of Education and has been adapted to meet Texas state standards. De Oliveira and Edrenkina also want to offer elements of a traditional French school outside the classroom to enhance their students’ experience.

This includes meals – C’est La Vie Bakery and Lili de Paris, a French restaurant, will cater student lunches – and extracurricular activities. The French School will offer yoga, Mandarin language, ballet, gymnastics, and engineering classes after school.

Students also will have two recess periods a day, with one in the morning and the other later in the day.

The school year calendar will follow North East Independent School District’s schedule to create consistency with the surrounding public school district, Edrenkina said.

Annual tuition is $11,200 for kindergarten and first-grade students. Costs vary for pre-kindergarten students depending on how much time they spend at the school.

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Emily Donaldson

Emily Donaldson reports on education for the San Antonio Report.