In Jersey City, a few minutes from Manhattan, the French American Academy is a household name. The school moved here in 2012 and welcomes more than 200 students from preschool to middle school in classes taught in French and English. The school contributes to local life as a partner in the Consulate General of France’s network of voting sites during the French elections. It also organizes a Bastille Day celebration every year on July 14. “Our school in Jersey City has become a major reference for families looking for a bilingual education,” says Anne-Sophie Gueguen, who cofounded the French American Academy with her husband Jean-François. “Every year, we welcome new families who have come to New Jersey both from other American states and from abroad.”
The establishment is both an innovative school, as bilingual education is still a new concept in the United States, and a business which must respect economic rules of good management like all other companies. The couple’s wish is to inspire future projects and facilitate the launch of other bilingual schools in the United States and Canada based on the French American Academy’s model. “It started with a personal initiative; we wanted our four children to be bilingual at a time when there were no French-language teaching programs in New Jersey,” says Anne-Sophie Gueguen. “Other parents were inspired by this approach and gradually joined us, which encouraged us to keep developing our concept, open other grade levels, and launch a second and then a third location. Our school’s reputation soon reached other states, and we have regularly received requests for assistance and advice from a diverse range of places ever since. One of our promotional films, in which we explain the benefits of bilingualism, is now used by some 20 establishments in North America and the United Kingdom.”
A “Win-Win” Franchising Arrangement
“In the end, we decided to accompany entrepreneurs and educators who want our assistance by offering them a franchisor/franchisee legal framework,” says Jean-François Gueguen. “A franchise enables signatories to remain independent; they manage their establishment, finances, and investments, and are the sole directors within the limits of the framework, whose educational aspects are defined by the French American Academy. This guarantees a certain quality of education, which is indispensable for a future accreditation by the Agence pour l’Enseignement Français à l’Etranger (AEFE).” The first franchised preschool will be opening this September in Hoboken, not far from Jersey City. A second is in preparation and will be launched imminently in Oklahoma, while a third opening in California is set to be announced in the coming weeks.
In Tulsa, Oklahoma, Emmanuel Boudet has the ideal entrepreneurial and teaching profile needed to open a school. Thanks to the support and training provided by the French American Academy, he will soon be ready to launch his own establishment. The assistance given by the franchisor covers aspects such as negotiating rental contracts, obtaining permits, implementing school management tools and processes, and creating bilingual programs through the recruitment and training of teachers. In total, the French Academy provides more than 90 hours of training (including management and administration, recruiting students and teachers, educational content, and methodology), along with continuous assistance. In Tulsa, around a dozen American families have already expressed an interest, and Emmanuel Boudet is actively looking for a building before officially opening his school.
“We are hoping to welcome 25 students from preschool to fifth grade by December 31, 2022,” says Emmanuel Boudet, who arrived in America from Amiens, Picardy, almost ten years ago. “The franchise has saved us three or four years in the realization of our project. It’s a real accelerator. The French American Academy, whose quality charter we have committed to respecting, provides us with its name and reputation, as well as its financial, practical, and educational expertise and organization. And when the time comes, it will also help us obtain accreditation from local authorities for our building and guide us through AEFE certification.”
A High-Achieving, Family-Run, Small-Scale School
Between 50 and 100 students are required for a school of this type to reach financial stability, according to Jean-François Gueguen. These smaller numbers contribute to the children’s well-being and promote the values of kindness, tolerance, and achievement championed by the French American Academy, which plans to stay “family-run” and “small-scale.” The ideal profile for opening a French American Academy school is a Francophone educator with an entrepreneurial spirit and a passion for bilingual education.
“Our four children turned us into dual-language entrepreneurs,” says Jean-François Gueguen. “They are the reason we founded the French American Academy, which started out as an afterschool program and then adapted to accommodate requests from parents. Today, most of our students come from families for whom French is not the native language, and who don’t speak French at home. Yet, these families have chosen a French-American bilingual education for their children. This is partly because our school is unique in a relatively homogenous educational landscape among preschools and elementary schools in the United States. But it is also because French is a particular language which transmits both culture and knowledge. The objective of the French American Academy is to make these students into bilingual, bicultural citizens who are open to diversity and able to adapt in a changing world.”
This philosophy has struck a chord as far afield as Oklahoma. In Tulsa and elsewhere in North America, “parents see French as an asset for their children,” says Emmanuel Boudet. “Without forgetting the advantage that a second language and culture offers when applying for college or in the workplace. We may live in a conservative state, but there is a hub, a community that loves France and the French language, and wants to give their children this gift. We are answering a call from families.”
Open your own French American Academy!