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Meet Gail Jillissen of The San Raphael Spanish Academy in Carmel Valley

Today we’d like to introduce you to Gail Jillissen.

So, before we jump into specific questions about the business, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
I have always enjoyed working with children. In elementary school I volunteered to help out in the preschool area during recess, and when I got older I babysat to make money.

I worked as an English teacher in Germany, teaching English to German children between 2 and 5 years old.

When my husband and I moved to San Diego, I knew I wanted to start a home daycare. I ran a regular home daycare for a year, but then started thinking of ways I could improve my business. I decided to make it exactly what I wanted in a home-based preschool for my youngest son, who was 1 year old then.

I started with an assistant to help teach preschool, but then she left and so I decided to change to Spanish.

I hired a native Spanish Preschool teacher who taught the preschoolers, while I prepared meals, changed diapers, and helped in the background. It didn’t take long until I needed to hire another teacher as we had more families enrolling their children.

We believe in teaching the whole child, so apart from language, we teach the children to be kind, helpful, responsible and well mannered. We serve home cooked, mostly organic food and encourage children to eat vegetables.

Our program is play based, so the children learn through games, singing, music, dancing, arts and crafts, and outdoor walks. Nearly everything is done in Spanish, so most children leave here understanding and being able to speak Spanish. We’ve had graduates who passed the entrance tests to get into Spanish Immersion Elementary Schools.

It’s a hard, but emotionally rewarding business.

Has it been a smooth road?
I hired an assistant who told me after about a year that she wanted to start her own home daycare. I was supportive and she left and then a few days later 3 families gave notice as they were moving to her daycare. At that stage, it was more than half of my paying customers. It was a struggle for a little while, but her leaving made me think hard about how I could make improvements to my daycare. That was when I thought of changing to Spanish, so I suppose I should thank her for doing what she did.

We’d love to hear more about your business.
We are a home based Spanish Immersion Preschool. We have full day programs as well as preschool morning only programs. Children are kept busy, learning and having fun. Often, they don’t want to leave when it’s time to go home. The best thing about this business is seeing how children grow, their excitement in learning new things, the friendships they make, and also how fast they learn Spanish. I treat all my daycare families as extensions of my own family, and believe in being honest and straightforward with them. I believe in giving the best I can.

Is our city a good place to do what you do?
Yes, this city is a good place for businesses like mine. It does take a few years before you’re able to make a profit, and you also need to be prepared to pay teachers, even if you’re not full. If you enjoy working with children, I recommend it, but if you are only looking for a way to make money, you should think of something else as there is a lot of after hours work involved too. Over the last few years, my husband has been able to help me run my business, but even with the 2 of us, we are still really busy.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Main photo, first and second image: Arika Reed

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