Interview with Jill Stribling, Founder of English for Fun in Madrid
Jill Stribling has a B.A. in Child Development and Psychology and a Master’s degree in Education and specialty in Literacy and Language Arts from California State University and more than 20 years of experience in education. After several years teaching in public schools in Los Angeles, CA, she was recruited by the American School of Madrid in 2001, where she taught Kindergaten and First Grade and took on several leadership roles (i.e. Grade Level Chair, Accreditation Committee Leader, etc.). With her educational and professional experience firmly in place, she developed a methodology for making language learning fun, and began her entrepreneurial journey in 2008 with literally one student in her living room. Shortly afterwards, she had a total of 70 students, and actually had to expand her business. English for Fun is an educational group with an English Enrichment Program for children and adults, an Urban Camp Program, an American Early Childhood Center and a Training Center for educators. Today, she owns schools in Madrid and Pozuelo de Alarcon, and this year alone more than 3,000 students will benefit from the English for Fun method!
What is English for Fun and why is it an effective way to learn English? How does this method differ from other teaching methods?
We focus on ACTIVE learning versus passive learning. Spaniards have been learning languages passively since school began, with a big focus on grammar, memorization, worksheets and test preparation, which has led to generations of people who have studied English their whole lives but still don’t feel comfortable communicating in English in social or professional contexts. More importantly, we nurture students’ self-esteem through positive reinforcement. We focus on communication skills in order to thrive in the real world. If they believe they can do it, they will do it! We lower the affective filter by doing activities that are non-threatening and kinestetic and FUN: cooking, theater, music, art, interactive board games, magic… Who wouldn’t want to go to English class?
In the 1990s you directed a program based on the acquisition of language skills for the Education Department in Los Angeles designed for the children of immigrants. How has this experience helped you develop the English for Fun method?
I worked in classrooms with immigrant children of various countries who had to learn the language quickly and effectively. Learning through play was the most effective way to engage the and them retain what they learned!
Is the English for Fun method suitable for children of any age or physical condition?
Absolutely! Babies to adults, we have students with all special rights (i.e. hearing loss, sight loss, physical challenges, down syndrome, asbergers, etc.). They all benefit from English for Fun because we stimulate learning using the five senses! Each student learns in a different way and it’s just a matter of finding what that is so they can reach their full potential. Our staff is trained to differentiate instruction so children get individualized attention in a small group setting.
You have the only U.S. accredited American Early Childhood Center in Europe. What is the philosophy and methodology of the Preschool?
At the American Exploration Center at English for Fun, we follow the Reggio Emilia Philosophy. I have always admired the Italian brain! Loris Malaguzzi was the founder of the Reggio philosophy and his view of childhood is so profound. In essence, it is where the child is viewed as a constructor of knowledge, the teacher is a collaborator in the children’s investigations and projects, and the environment plays the role of the third teacher. We are a Reggio Inspired school because we love that the cultural aspect is an important part of of each learning community and that no two Reggio schools are the same. We love the flexibility that it offers and the belief that education is ever-evolving. We are able to offer individualized attention because of our low student/teacher ratios and because we hire highly qualified teachers.
Research shows that the quality of early experiences and relationships in the first three years of life affects brain architecture and has a deep and lasting impact on the foundation for the learning that follows. This is why we are passionate about Early Childhood Education and our focus is to help children be curious learners and critical thinkers who ask questions. We instill a love of learning and provide our children with the tools they need to grow, develop and become the leaders of tomorrow! The National Early Childhood Program Accreditation (NECPA) ensures top quality standards in our school. Finally, we have a Learning Lab concept where educators and students come into our environmnet to evolve and grow and challenge themselves on a daily basis.
Do you have native English speakers as well as non-native children in the school?
Yes, we attract many native English speaking families, but also obviously Spanish and a diverse group of international families. This helps with developing English as their social language among peers as well as with our teachers, and for native English speakers, it offers them an environment that would be very similar to an international school setting. I always say, people should choose our learning environment because of the values we represent and our methodology…the English is a BONUS!
Are all of your teachers in the center native English speakers?
Yes. Some of our teachers we recruit from the US and UK, but up to 14 different nationalities are represented among our staff, so we are able to bring global and culturally rich world to our families!
What after school programs do you offer?
Our English Enrichment Program offers workshops for one-year-olds and above. It gives the children (and adults) the opportunity to live and play in English for two consecutive hours each week using a set method based on themes. We give the children vocabulary and set phrases and a context for the learning through hands-on activities. It is a great way to spend an afternoon or Saturday having FUN after being locked up in a classroom and seated in a desk all day!
What programs do you offer for teenagers?
Our teens classes involve learning English in a fun and collaborative environment. We encourage leadership, teamwork and public speaking skills. We see this as our moment to get our students involved in community action projects and putting their English into action for the good of their society. They work on big projects throughout the school year: the creation of their own magazine, interviewing people of interest, making documentaries, contributing to the community through volunteer work, and much more! In our newest program, English for Hackers, our tweens and teens are learning English through robotics and programming.
Are there opportunities for adults to learn as well?
Yes, we have English for Work which are dynamic conversation classes for adults which follow the same learning philosophy. We can bring them into companies however the majority of our classes take place during the same timetable that the children have their classes so families can actually learn together in our school. What a powerful message to give to your children! This should be expected since Continuous Learning happens to be one of our core company values, right?
Can you describe English for Fun in 3 words?
Constructive, impactful, transformational.