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Planning Commission green lights trilingual preschool

SAN MARCOS — A permit for a proposed trilingual preschool combining instruction in English, Spanish and French was approved 5-1 by the Planning Commission on Aug. 5. The permit is for a 4,436-square-foot indoor facility and an adjacent 2,015-square-foot playground. The school’s maximum enrollment is 60 students.

Owned by the chain Vision, the company has its roots in Canada. If approved by the City Council, this will be Vision’s first U.S. location, slotted for 403 N. Twin Oaks Valley Road.

Though Vision got a Planning Commission green light, it did not come before questions raised by members of the Planning Commission. Most of those questions centered on the safety of children and the location of the school, located in a 103-car parking lot (93 if the preschool opens for business) which also has a hookah lounge, a pool hall, a billiards lounge — and if it ever gets the permit, a crematorium.

The solo “no” vote came from Eric Flodine. He said he supported Vison’s vision, but not in its current location.

Flodine’s biggest concern, he said, is the possibility of traffic coming in at high speeds in the parking lot from the intersection of Twin Oaks Valley Road and Richmar Avenue. The playground for the preschool will sit 24 feet away from the school.

To ease those concerns, the parking lot will include two speed bumps and a children crossing sign. This, however, did not satisfy Flodine.

“People just come in and take that curve pretty quick,” said Florine. “So, while there’s been an effort to put speed bumps in on either end, the fact that this is a separate playground from the school itself, that’s very peculiar to me and seems to set a very unsafe condition for the kids.”

The preschool’s principal and franchise owner Karyne Bégin said that instructors will always accompany students to and from the playground, with a rope system in place to ensure a safe passageway across the parking lot.

“They’re going to go out two groups at a time with three teachers and we have specialized ropes for children to go outside,” said Bégin. “So, there’s going to be one teacher in the front and all the children are going to be tight within this rope.”

Bégin also said that the previous school for which she served as principal, located in Québec City in Canada, initially had similar concerns.

“At first, we were kinding of freaking out about all of this, but we put speed bumps in the parking lot, it really worked super well,” she said. “It really takes time to educate the people that come in because they’re not used to that … But we honestly never had any problem, so we just had to educate people to ensure that it was safe for everyone.”

Planning Commission member Ed Musgrove expressed similar concerns about the location for childrens’ safety and the physical separation of the school from the playground. But he said it would be hard, no matter where proposed, to find a “perfect” locale.

“I completely agree with Commissioner Flodine’s concerns about the layout, but I have to also factor in to find a perfect location is almost impossible,” said Musgrove.

Planning Commission member Jeff Oleksy said he believes the concerns about fast-moving vehicles is “unfounded.”

“I also live very close to this and I honestly find these fears of cars flying through this area is a little bit unfounded,” said Oleksy. “They only come from direction, from the west, and it needs to be a left turn to get in there … It feels pretty narrow when you drive in there. I have to shamefully admit that I drive pretty fast, but I don’t see a lot of people being able to have any real speed coming through making that left turn into there.”

Kevin Norris, the chairman of the Planning Commission, asked Bégin to negotiate the potential to join the playground and preschool together as one contiguous property. But he agreed with Musgrove, stating, “to find an ideal, perfect place is probably not going to happen.”

The journey to San Marcos started for Bégin when she was looking for a place to vacation in California in early 2018. Her niece chose San Diego, a city she had not heard of as a longtime resident of Québec. She said she quickly fell in love with the area, visiting multiple times after the initial trip, eventually deciding to upend life in Canada to come to San Marcos and build something new.

Bégin said her and her son moved into an apartment in San Marcos a week ago, in preparation for the looming school year for both of them. Her son, 16, will attend Mission Hills High School, while Bégin hopes that Vision will open its doors by November.

The school will have six instructors, open between 6:45 a.m. and 6 p.m., with school hours scheduled for 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. The hours before and after school will focus on day care and “free play,” as opposed to scholastic instruction.

The changing demographics, growing population and comparatively lower cost of living in San Marcos — as opposed to a place like La Jolla — aer what Bégin said drew her to the city. She has been a preschool instructor since 2005, becoming the principal of La petite école Vision Sillery in Québec in 2013.

As a transplant from Québec, Bégin’s native language is French. She said Vision instructors must teach the language that is their mother tongue and that the preschool used a “play-based” educational model.

“To learn before we’re 5 years old, everything happens before we’re 5 years old,” said Bégin. “Why? Because it’s play-based. So, even if they’re playing with someone that speaks Chinese and they’re language is French, the language is not words, it’s more what they’re doing together. So they will eventually understand each other.”

Bégin believes that for those learning multiple languages, it’s the “younger the better” because the brain at that age is like an “empty drawer” in which information can be placed.

“It’s really easy because they’re not shy like us,” Bégin said. “If I’m trying to make you say some words in French, you might feel more self-conscious. For them, it’s easy and they almost have no accent whatsoever. And there’s a lot of studies that prove that.”

Beyond its 23 locations which serve 3,000 children in Quebec, Vision also has preschools in Morocco, Senegal and Ukraine.

Tuition at Vision will cost $15,080 per school year for students who attend five days per week, $8,905 for those who attend three days a week and $6,175 for those who go to days a week.

Photo Caption: San Marcos City Hall. Photo capture via Google Street View

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