By TNCP Staff
Gaëlle Cassin-Ross had her son, Sagan, in August of 2014. While on maternity leave, she only spoke to her child in French. She stated that she wanted her son to have a good start in life, so she took six months off to spend time nurturing him.
Gaëlle was born in France, but spent most of her childhood in Guadeloupe, a small French-speaking country in the Caribbean. She obtained her Ph.D. in France, and in April of 2009, she arrived in the United States as a postdoctoral researcher in molecular biology and plant physiology in a lab at Michigan State University.
Cassin-Ross said, “I was excited when I was accepted to Michigan State University. It is one of the top two institutions in the world in my field.”
During her time off, she went to play groups and other mothers heard her speaking to her child in French.
“I would speak to Sagan in French and I would speak to their children in French because it was more convenient. I will speak to any child in French because it is easier not having to switch languages. And the children understood. They are like sponges,” explained Cassin-Ross.
Other mothers began to ask her if they would teach their children French, and after hearing this request several times, she decided to start a French language immersion school. In April, she opened Aux Petits Soins (oh puh-TEE swahn), focusing on babies. Aux Petits Soins is a French idiom that means “to take tender care of.”
When she started, there were two classes of 6 months olds through 2 year olds. There were so many parents interested in their baby being in the class, that she had to add two more classes for that age group. She keeps the class sizes at a maximum number of 6 so that the children can receive more one on one instruction time. She also added a class for 2 year olds to four year olds during that same in April 2015 session.
“My 3-month-old daughter and I drive one and a half hours once or twice per month so that we can enjoy the benefits of the class,” said Breaha Wallin, a mother who lives in Midland.
“We would be going once or twice per week if we lived in Lansing. I cannot recommend it enough. Gaëlle is an absolute joy and has a talent for engaging even the youngest students.”
Cassin-Ross said, “With each session the student population continues to grow. The sessions last for 12 weeks. And with every session, there are new students. I did not know that Americans wanted to learn about the French culture. We have a waiting list. There is a true interest in it and it is beyond the language. Language is the passport to connect with people but it is the culture that truly immerses you in the learning process. As well as, the assurance that no one will judge you when are learning the language.”
In July, a 4-6 year old class was added. More parents heard about the program and a 6-9 year old class was added in September. Another class for 9-12 year olds is slated to begin in January 2016.
As the classes grew and parents saw their children becoming emerging bilingualists, they wanted a piece of the action as well.
Cassin-Ross said, “The parents began to ask me about providing them with services, such as language groups. Some took French during high school or studied abroad and missed the culture, language, food and the people.”
The demand was enough for her to start looking at a permanent location in an easily accessible neighborhood, and last month she found a home in Lansing's Eastside Neighborhood.
“Ever since I moved to Michigan, I had always wanted to create a place that would be like a little piece of home - a little Paris in Lansing. This next step of Aux Petits Soins will fulfill that, but it happened faster than I anticipated. So now I have the space, I have some students, and I have some adults who I've connected with. Now I just need to furnish it.”
Cassin-Ross wants to expand the space from just being a classroom to a library, a French café, and a play area to occupy children while their siblings are in class. She wants to make the French immersion program a free community resource - or at least more affordable for many - so she decided to launch an Indiegogo campaign rather than take out a loan to furnish the space.
“It's been a challenge, but my vision for this space is unique, and uniquely Lansing. It will be a French cultural immersion center for people of all ages. For example, the library will have French books, newspapers and magazines, with a comfortable couch and soothing lighting. All the toys will be educational based. And I don't want people to have to pay for this, because that limits access. It's important for me that this is a place where all the lines of society are erased.”
Now it's just a matter of connecting with people to let them know she's there.
For more information, call Gaëlle at (517) 643-8059 or like the Aux Petits Soins Facebook page: facebook.com/auxpetitssoinsllc. If you would like to donate, search for Aux Petits Soins under “Small Business” at Indiegogo.com.
This article was printed in the November 1, 2015 - November 16, 2015 edition.