A new school in St. Petersburg will not only offer an individualized education designed to foster intellectual, creative and social independence, but it will do so while fully immersing its students in French, Spanish and English.
French founder and owner Virginie Butin opened the first and only Trilingual Montessori School in the Tampa Bay area in January 2019. The campus in Seminole has proven to be popular with families across the region. Butin has 50 families on a waitlist, in addition to the 75 children that currently attend the school.
Following the success of the first school, Butin has decided to open a new campus in St. Pete.
“We are unique in the Tampa Bay area – even in Florida,” said Butin. “We are the only one to provide the full trilingual immersion in French, English and Spanish all day long.”
The new De La Fontaine Trilingual Montessori School opens its doors in January at 300 58th St. N., in St. Petersburg. The school welcomes children from two months to 6 years old throughout the school year from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m., and also offers a complete summer program.
The mixed-age, child-directed education will combine language and cultural activities in an authentic Montessori environment. The curriculum follows the principles and philosophy that have been sought after since Dr. Maria Montessori created them in 1907. Butin noted there are four or five families that make the drive from Tampa to Seminole because they believe in the impact of the program.
“They definitely want their kids to learn foreign languages and to be fully immersed in multicultural and multilingual environments,” Butin said. “They cross the bridge every morning, every day to drive their kids to seminar.”
There are about 20 students for every teacher at De La Fontaine, guided by Montessori certified instructors from Europe, South America and the United States. The teachers only speak their native language to the children, providing full linguistic immersion in their formative years.
Butin, along with many researchers, believes that children grasp foreign languages much easier when they are younger. In place of homework and exams are enrichment activities such as gardening, cooking, animal care, art and music – all taught in one of the three languages. Students learn at their own pace and with no limits, and Butin said some children begin to understand languages in just a few weeks.
“I have kids who are 5 who are in our kindergartner program; they speak French and Spanish so well, they have the ability to have basic conversations,” said Butin. “And I know at home it’s only the English language.”
In addition to the three featured languages, Butin said the school institutes 20 multicultural environments with the help of teachers from around the world. The curriculum also focuses on diversity, tolerance and respect, and Butin welcomes international families to further the multicultural environment.
“For families who want to offer that to their children a world without borders it’s definitely the place to choose for the kids and even for families,” she said. “We build a strong partnership with families; we want to be very close to our families.”
The school is non-faith-based and welcomes all religions. Butin said the school embraces Catholic, Jewish and Muslim faiths equally, and children also learn about important events in each culture and religion.
“It’s a very diverse and tolerant place,” she added. “We educate kids for peace and for being tolerant and respectful, and to just grow in a diverse environment.”
Butin said the soon-to-open St. Petersburg campus is enrolling new families, and there are still a few openings. For more information, visit the website here.