As Spanish Schoolhouse celebrates its 20th anniversary, the three Spanish Schoolhouse founders recently gathered at our corporate office in Plano, Texas, to reflect on the past two decades. Memories of the early days brought about nostalgic smiles and touching stories as they looked back on the highlights over the years. Here is the story of Spanish Schoolhouse – then and now!
Planting the First Seed
The language immersion process is often compared to a plant. Seeds of language are planted, take root, and begin to flower. Our company has grown and developed in much the same way. Read along to see how SSH has bloomed!
Back in 1999, a small group of children gathered in a living room to get a taste of the Spanish language and culture in a fun, energetic way. That living room belonged to Victoria Williams (an American mom with a psychology degree). She brought in neighbor Monica Ramírez (a mom from Mexico with a computer science background) to help teach the children Spanish. Together they taught fun, hands-on, one-hour classes. They weren’t thinking of this as a future business – they just wanted to create a place where kids could have fun while learning the Spanish language!
These weekly Spanish classes grew quickly and a Spanish summer camp was soon added. These classes gave children valuable experience with the language and culture in simple ways. They learned the Spanish language through authentic songs, games, and crafts. Monica recalls, “At every opportunity, we looked for ways to show children the culture and language and to help give them a global outlook.”
The children loved it and word began to spread as more parents became excited about the idea of bilingualism. The classes were a success!
In 2000, when local elementary schools had removed Spanish from the curriculum, a parent urged Victoria and Monica to contact the ISD to see about offering Spanish classes after school. The principal jumped at the opportunity and Spanish Schoolhouse was suddenly official!
A mom at this school (Josie Gerber, from Peru) heard about the classes and was intrigued. She was a graphic designer but she’d also worked with bilingual kids in California. She was impressed by how well the kids had learned through Spanish immersion and she immediately asked to join as a teacher. And that is how, in an organic fashion, three women from different countries and backgrounds came together to plant the seed that became Spanish Schoolhouse!
Beginning to Sprout
Within a couple of years, the After School Spanish classes had expanded to over 20 schools in the Plano and Frisco ISDs. Meanwhile, the home-based sessions had grown so much that in 2003, a larger space had to be rented to fit all the students! Parents kept asking for more – more exposure, more academic content, more locations. The friends decided to start a preschool in order to give children academics along with language and culture instruction.
The first Spanish Schoolhouse preschool opened in September 2003. Classes were held inside a church in Frisco, Texas. The school year started with only 5 students and ended with 60! By the start of the following school year, the Frisco preschool had over 100 students. When a mom who was driving from Coppell to Frisco every day said, “There’s an empty school by my house. You should open a school there!”, the expansion plan took root and our second school opened. Thinking about this stage, Victoria says, “We weren’t focused on growing the business. We just wanted to give more children the opportunity to learn the Spanish language and culture. Our focus was on making all of our classes the best that they could be.”
By 2006, Southlake and North Dallas locations had opened, too. The expansion was happening before the founders’ eyes, but their motivation remained the same – to share language and culture through games, songs, and play while giving children a strong early childhood education. Victoria loved the fact that her own children and others had been enriched by this experience. Monica and Josie were excited they could pass along authentic culture from their countries to their own children and others.
Fertilizing for Growth
The partners had developed a strong concept, a unique curriculum, and a program that was a great blueprint for expansion as the demand for bilingual education grew. In 2008, they began to share this as a business model, starting with two employees who wanted to start their own schools. The first franchise locations were born in Carrollton/Castle Hills and Allen! It was a time of celebration for the whole SSH team. There was genuine excitement about sharing the SSH mission in ways beyond the classroom. As Josie added, “Franchising allowed us to share a business opportunity with others who were passionate about changing children’s lives through immersion.”
As new franchisees joined the SSH family, franchise and corporate-owned schools opened throughout DFW, Houston, and Austin. One of the policies was non-negotiable – all Spanish teachers had to be native Spanish speakers. This attracted a warm and vibrant mix of educators who had moved to the US with their families and often longed for the familiarity of home. Spanish Schoolhouse gave them a chance to work in their own cultural setting, sharing their language and traditions very proudly! This has created a family-like bond in each school and throughout the organization.
A Full Bouquet!
Today, we have 17 schools across the DFW, Houston, and Austin metro areas. When you ask Victoria, Monica, and Josie what they’re most proud of, it’s not the business they’ve built. It’s the fact they’ve worked together as partners and friends, keeping their initial vision intact for so long! They’re proud of the loving and warm atmosphere that surrounds SSH children every day. Even though they didn’t start with an official “written” mission, the core seed of sharing authentic language and culture in a fun and educational environment has never changed.
This vision continues to guide the atmosphere and education at all of our schools and fosters the connection the schools share with each other. We are truly one big family!
As a team, we’re proud of our simple beginnings and how far we’ve come. We’ve watched more than 15,000 students grow through our programs, acquiring the Spanish language and gaining an understanding of cultures beyond their own. We’ll keep striving to reach as many children as we can! As we grow, we remain committed to doing this without ever losing sight of the genuine focus that started in that living room in 1999.
We look forward to the next chapter in the Spanish Schoolhouse story and to the next 20 years of sharing language, love, and learning!
Spanish Schoolhouse Fort Worth
It’s clear to see that all three founders had a dream of providing an authentic and supportive learning environment for students. Yolanda and the teachers at SSH Fort Worth work hard every day to uphold these values and provide students with an excellent education. Each of our staff members is passionate about guiding young students as they experiment with a new language and would be honored to help your child grow as a person and a student. We would love the opportunity to teach your child important life skills to complement the good work you’re doing with them at home. After all, it takes a village.