Since 2016, all married couples have been allowed to have two children in China, accordingly, the education market has been growing rapidly, especially early education (0 to 6 years).
Leticia de Lassus, a passionate and dedicated educator who thinks early childhood education is vital, seized the opportunity to open schools in Guangdong, aiming to help children have a positive and joyful school experience in their first years of life.
The first step is always the hardest. Over the past five years, Leticia has gone through a lot to get to where she is now, and she looks forward to helping more families by providing high quality early education services for children in the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area.
Leticia works with a child in class at JJB Ersha Island. [Photo: Steven Yuen]
“Guangzhou is a good place to start”
Born into an international family, Leticia has had a love of travelling and languages since childhood. At the age of 15, Leticia visited her aunt in London where she went to a Montessori school and was amazed by the teaching methods. Therefore, when it came to choosing what to do in the future, she had already made up her mind to be a Montessori teacher.
In 2013, Leticia moved to Hong Kong and met her future business partners in early 2014. With the same enthusiasm for both preschool education and Montessori pedagogy, they decided to open a Montessori school together. But where?
In Autumn 2013, China proposed the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), a concept which has grown into a key platform for building a community with a shared future for humanity. Guangzhou, the starting point of the ancient Maritime Silk Road and a spearhead of the BRI, has been attracting more and more foreign talent. Leticia and her partners immediately settled on Guangzhou as the best choice.
“Guangzhou is a good place for us to start, because it is an international metropolis, with more and more young families coming to the city, especially expatriates ones,” Leticia said.
The first JJB school opened in November 2014, on Binjiang Road, Haizhu District, by the side of the Pearl River, the second one opening in the Golden Lake Garden community in Baiyun District, surrounded with mountains, lakes and fresh air, and the third is close to the famous Xinghai Concert Hall and Guangdong Museum of Art on Ersha Island, Yuexiu District.
One of the many things that Leticia loves about Guangzhou is that the city has both an air of modernity, while retaining its unique Lingnan indigenous culture and beautiful natural environment. That’s also why she chose the above mentioned sites to open JJB centers, to ensure there is a good environment for the children to grow and learn in.
Leticia enjoys the many different kinds of Chinese food and the traditional festivals celebrated with special foods around the year. “Every festival you bring the family together, you have special dishes, and it makes a year very happy,” Leticia said.
Leticia (R) is in the class with children. [Photo: Steven Yuen]
Overcome challenges to win trust
When you start your career in an unfamiliar city, you will likely face a myriad of challenges, and for Leticia this was certainly the case. “The first biggest challenge was the culture because it is very different,” Leticia pointed out. New languages and various educational concepts were another two major challenges for her at the beginning.
Back then, Leticia spoke neither Mandarin nor Cantonese, not to mention any of the dialects in Guangdong. Because of the language barrier, she found it very difficult to communicate with even a taxi driver, let alone to make sure her messages were clear to both the parents and her team members. With this pressing task at hand, Leticia lost no time, and started to learn the languages. The more she learned, the more her appreciation for Chinese culture grew too.
According to Leticia, one of the biggest cultural differences between China and European countries is that families work in a different way. Here in China, parents and grandparents raise the children together, while in Europe grandparents often don’t get as involved. Based on the educational concepts that she has studied, respecting the local culture is vital, and so Leticia did a lot of meetings with both parents and grandparents to better understand their demands.
That’s also how Leticia has maintained the balance between Montessori education and local people’s expectation for their children’s education. Leticia pointed out that JJB offers true Montessori bilingual education for children from three months to three years old, but parents knew very little about authentic Montessori style education in the beginning, so they were worried about sending their children to such a school, especially such young infants.
In order to dispel their misgivings and reassure the parents, Leticia has personally trained all the teachers to ensure they have the same values and passion as she does. She then invited both parents and children to attend meetings, visit the schools or try out the courses. After a period of time, the parents were surprised to see the changes in their children, who were happier, more independent and confident. Gradually they accepted the concept and began to trust JJB with their children.
Leticia (L) presents a certificate to a child at a graduation ceremony. [Photo provided to Newsgd.com]
Children’s education is all about foundations
There is a saying in China that “children’s education is like buttoning up one’s jacket. If the first button is fastened incorrectly, the rest will never find their rightful place.” Leticia said she couldn’t agree more with this saying.
Leticia believes the first six years are very important for children, and parents have to build a child’s character and build educational foundations from the very beginning. “This is like the roots of a tree. If the roots are not deep or strong enough, the tree will fall down when there is typhoon, no matter how tall it is or how much blossom it holds.”
Therefore Leticia strongly suggests parents should spend more quality time with their children, to understand their child’s development, to give the best during this vital period of time, and to make sure “the first button is fastened correctly”. In Leticia’s opinion, educating children is not only about taking care of them, feeding them, or showing them how to play and have fun, but also helping them to go through challenges, overcome difficulties, and become better human beings.
With the aim of providing high quality early education services for children in the Greater Bay Area, Leticia said they are planning to establish more centers for children, and for parents and teachers as well, in which they can gather together to share and to grow. “The most important thing is that we want to help more families, including not only those who come to JJB, but also those who can’t come, by giving conferences, online courses and events,” Leticia smiled.
Leticia believes education is the key to helping a country grow. Therefore she plans to work on a short film to show the world how much young children can help society toward a better future. “When you see how such young children can do so much, it means that we can do more.”
Author: Monica Liu
Editor: Simon Haywood