Meet our Owner & Founder, Jill Stribling
Did you grow up in Galt?
I was born and raised in Galt and I left for college when I was 20, back in 1995.
What year did you graduate from Galt High School (GHS)?
What programs were you involved in at GHS? Clubs?
Student Council-I can’t remember my role, there were several but I cannot remember them all. Sports? Softball, Basketball, Swimteam (outside of school).
How did your time at GHS shape the trajectory of your life?
I think that growing up in a small town had its advantages. I felt protected and confident and I learned how to be myself from that comfort/safety net. I was active in sports and I had friends from my whole life and that made it possible to have strong roots. I was also able to participate in a lot of activities and try out many different things. I had summer jobs at the local pool as a lifeguard and swim instructor and I was the trusted babysitter for my neighbors. I had a lot of opportunities to participate in leadership activities and I was able to work in a local school to gain experience at an early age.
When you were in high school is this what you imagined for yourself?
I always wanted to be a teacher and I wanted to move away and see new things but I never imagined that life would take me to Spain permanently.
Where did you attend college?
First at Consumnes River College. Then I went away to California State University at Northridge. I had a scholarship to play softball for the university.
What degree(s) do you hold?
BA in Child Development with a minor in Psychology. MSTC in Education and specialty in Literacy and Language Arts. And I have completed several programs in Spain as well. The most recent was a masters from Instituto Europeo Diseño called Red de Industrias Creativas (a program 100% in Spanish to help creative entrepreneurs thrive). I believe in continuous learning and development so I never stop studying. When did you graduate? Galt-1993, CRC-1995, CSUN-1997, 1999, 2000. IED-2018.
Did you study abroad while at university?
No. I went to Europe for the first time when I was 23 or 24 and fell in love with it. After the visit, I realized I wanted to move to Europe for a few years and continue to learn Spanish while I was still young and single. So I researched and found out that I could apply at the best schools after completing my masters and had three years teaching experience. As soon as I met the requirements, I went to a hiring fair for Search Associates in Carmel, CA and luckily there was a job in Madrid, Spain. The new experience changed my life and l haven’t really looked back since.
Were you involved in any other extracurriculars?
I played softball on scholarship at CSUN. I was in clubs for education and professional development. After becoming a teacher, Beginning Teacher Support and Assessment (BTSA) where they gave me a mentor and money for training and workshops to improve quality. I also participated in a program at our schooled, called the Title lX Cadre??? (now Pearson Learning Teams) to learn how to write literacy based curriculum for children in order to improve testing results in literacy and language arts.
Why did you choose to pursue this career?
I have always wanted to be a teacher. I admired my teacher and always wanted to please them at any cost; however, I had no control of my body and I needed to move and be active and that was difficult for teachers who had classrooms filled with 30 children and rigorous standards to meet. I think that because my learning style was not conducive to the traditional education system, I always felt like the student who teachers struggled with. I felt like I was not smart and like I could never give teachers what they needed in the traditional educational setting. School (and especially early childhood) left me with emotional scars because I knew that I was intelligent and I had other gifts but I could not do anything to let that shine through in the eyes of my teachers. I felt beat down by the system. It was the Industrial Revolution education system that I blame, not my teachers. That must have been difficult to enjoy with the control and the domination required to keep 30 children in a seat while you “give” them knowledge in order to prepare for an exam that really shows nothing more that your ability to pass a test. It was not relevant for me because I was active and had ADHD. Thankfully, I had sports and very strict parents to keep my grades up! School back then kept my spirit and my confidence down inside of the classroom. So I think becoming a teacher was my way of protecting children from suffering at school. I believe in giving children the confidence and the tools to empower themselves. They need to survive an ever evolving world that does not always put kids needs first and parents who are learning along the way and doing the best that they can. They need 21st century skills that have nothing to do with the traditional system of how we measure learning. They need basic manners and the ability to negotiate, sometimes in another language, and with people who are from all over the world so “soft skills” and customer service are important in developing and maintaining relationships. I know that insecurities are ruining the world so we must raise secure adults and that starts in childhood. After working in different educational environments, both in the public and private sector, in the US and abroad, I found my niche which is to work with others and to teach in a way that can help all children/adults succeed. And it is pretty simple…give them confidence, make them feel safe, teach them empathy as a foundation for everything that they do and have FUN (both teachers and students). Life is too short to be miserable at school and/or at work!
How has your life progressed since high school?
Internships, jobs and job responsibilities, unexpected turns, etc. I started doing internships while I was in high school and learning from admirable teachers (Ms. Mc Cowan at River Oaks), I had coaches who spent hours on end helping me achieve my dream of getting a scholarship to play softball and see new parts of the U.S. (Mr. Bettencourt). I had wonderful teachers who guided me along the way (Mr. Salas). My mom has always believed that I can do anything and she lived her life supporting my instinct to learn through trial and error. My dad made me clean out cattle trucks as a young kid (it taught me that nothing was beneath me and that smelling like poo paid a lot of money so it was kind of worth it although going to a party afterwards in high school was not alway ideal for a young girl trying to meet boys). I was the town babysitter and I helped raise my neighbors. I certified to be a swim instructor and lifeguard and that gave me a foundation of working with children in an insecure setting (swimming is scary at first just like anything else). I was a sports coach, a camp councilor, an office assistant for the State of California, a personal assistant for a celebrity manager in Los Angeles. I always worked to earn my own spending money (thank you mom and dad for teaching me about hard work). I think the best training for teaching was actually the “sink or swim” job of substituting in Los Angeles Unified School District for a year. I developed my teacher toolkit, took a lot of great ideas and met wonderful mentors who became friends for life. Then as a teacher in Los Angeles, I participated in programs to support new teachers, BTSA which was done through my university. My first teaching job at a school, Hazeltine Avenue Elementary School had a cadre/grant for developing English as a second language units and working in teams of educators to improve testing results for immigrant children. That experience gave me the knowledge and the background to develop the methodology behind English for Fun. Basically, there is something wonderful to be learned from every experience if you are open to it and you have a Growth Mindset. And looking back, I realize that I learned the most from the difficult and horrible experiences so I use that mindset to get out of difficult situations and problem solve.
What took you to Spain and what made you decide to stay?
A job took me to Madrid, Spain in 2001. I was hired to teach at the prestigious American School of Madrid (American Schools are all over the world to serve U.S. citizens while living outside of the U.S.). I was hired for a two year contract. I decided to stay in Spain for LOVE. 17 years and two kids and a growing business later, I am still here!
Do you speak Spanish? If so, did you learn in high school or once you arrived in Spain?
I speak Spanish fluently however not with perfect grammar. People understand me and I think my accent/grammar has been helpful in the success of English for Fun. It makes people feel more secure to know that I am not perfect and I don’t care…I still have a healthy attitude even when I am doing things wrong. I studied Spanish for 9 years during my time in Galt from elementary school and high school. I had the concepts down but until I was in a situation where I had to speak and live in the language, I struggled to communicate. Thankfully, I was in a bilingual classroom in the 4th grade at Valley Oaks School so I can roll my “rrr” really well! Bilingualism helps me to be more empathetic and that helps me relate to customers and to children. Learning another language is about doing something difficult and getting outside of your comfort zone and feeling insecure and relating to another person who is different from you. I love that part of teaching languages. It really helps people mentally grow!
How did English for Fun come to be? When?
After 5 years teaching in The American School of Madrid, I was up for a new challenge and I knew that if was going to be happy in Spain, I needed my own thing. I needed a community around me that would help me embrace living in another country and I needed something that would challenge me on a professional level because I actually love to work and to constantly challenge myself. I had a 1 year old son and the terrible recession hit Spain and badly. I knew that I needed to help my family financially survive and teaching did not pay well enough here. I had been working on my methodology during private classes for many years. So I decided to officially create weekly workshops for kids based on my methodology. The goal was to help children and families overcome their fears of speaking English and live in the language. English for Fun started in 2008 in my living room with one student. I was afraid to take a financial risk on the idea so I continued to build the business at home. It grew very quickly and we have not looked back ever since. I think the economic recession actually helped the business. Many adults could not get a new job because they did not speak English and they did not want their children to suffer the same issue in the future. As an educator, I had the advantage of constantly developing new things and we grew to open up several lines of business based on the demands of the market (English Enrichment Program afterschool/weekends, Urban Camp Programs, Adult programs and we maxed out the space with our American Early Childhood Center in 2014-which we accredited in the US and we are the only U.S. accredited centers in Europe).
I believe you have multiple locations now. How did the expansion happen and when?
I currently have two schools but it all happened based on the demand of our products. We left my home to open the first tiny school in 2010 and moved into our first official building in 2011 and maximized the space by opening new lines of business until we had no more space. We opened the second design school in 2016 after a very difficult landing in a neighboring city (we had a delay of a year due to a corrupt city hall retaining our license). Innovation in education is scary for some of the more traditionally minded people and we were caught up in a scandal that is nearly solved but we had our experience with the bureaucratic Spanish legal system which is difficult. It made our path as a company even more clear because education is the key to ending 100% of the worlds problems and it is the key to ending corruption and other harmful human-made issues. Now the school is up and running and winning arquictectural design prizes and our arquitects, Lorena del Rio and Iñaqui Carnecero of RICA Studio are traveling the world presenting the project. We are now recognized for our pedagogical methodology and we are reference for language immersion in English throughout Spain. We have evolved and grown up as an organization and we are preparing for the next step to open more schools. We are in the process of developing Innovation for Fun, which will be an educational laboratory and a place for curious people to develop new strategies and ideas to better the education of our students. It will be a training facility for our staff and for people who would like to learn how to teach our methodology. We bring American Master Teachers from the U.S. to come to Spain with a contract to legally work for us. They get to have the experience of living in Spain, leaving their mark on the educational system here, continuing to develop as a professional, learning a second language and growing as a person.
Why did you choose to focus on teaching children?
I think that as we know, they are the forgotten people worldwide. Children do not choose to be born, yet they are here without any say in the matter. Many families are suffering and that leaves kids vulnerable to emotional wounds that will last a lifetime. Politicians make decisions for a country without thinking about reprecussions for the future and the world that children will be left to take care of. We need to give them the life skills/tools to survive and to be mentally strong and to feel secure in their own abilities so they can survive the mistakes the world will make. We have to protect kids emotionally or else they become troubled adults (I often see the backlash of childhood instabilities and insecurities that come out through unhappy or unstable adults who want to escape and move abroad). It is our duty to give children the opportunity to reach their full potential. I also believe that the best way to change the world is through education. It is the most powerful tool you have to control your own life.
Tell me about your approach to teaching English.
We teach in a research based and natural way. We use several pedagogical philosophies as a base for our work but we are closely aligned with the Reggio Emilia philosophy. Everything is done with intention, it is predictable and there are habits and routines for comfort of the learner, teachers are researchers and the learning environment is a third teachrs. We work thematically and do project-based learning and everything is based on the children’s interests. It is kinesthetic and we do not stop having fun exploring our 5 senses in each class. We work primarily with children, but with quality educators that come from an early childhood background, we can apply the same principals to adults when we teach them. Many adults think it is too late to learn a second language or they feel insecure about not speaking English already so they invent excuses to avoid feeling like a failure or to be vulnerable. We work will people of all ages but it is simply more FUN to be around kids!
I’ve seen a lot go by lately about how teaching young children should be geared more toward play. What are your thoughts on this?
Our motto is “Learning through play is the only way!” and we give teacher training about it on a regular basis. Play is the most important form of learning for both children and adults. It is how you experiment, you negotiate, you enjoy and you remember what you have learned. If the learning is meaningful the student is more successful and wants to learn more and that is exactly what play does. This system of testing and memorizing to regurgitate useless facts is a thing of the past. In order to prepare people for the 21st center, play is now more important than ever! And if you do not play in childhood, you will become a repressed adult who starts to play for the first time at 50 years old and that is way too late to start having FUN. That can lead to a whole other batch of problems!.
Tell me about the different classes and programs you offer at English for Fun, including your summer programs. What makes them unique?
We do lots of different things, both for children and adults. The most important things is that we use the 5 senses to explore in all of our lessons. We teach to all different learning styles so information is retained. We have a workshop concept in everything that we do so it never feels like a “class”. Even our teacher training is about getting moving and making things and engaging in the work that needs to be done. It is always practical and relevant to real life so it is useful and you can transfer the knowledge to other areas of life. We lower the affective-filter (stress factor in learning new things) so learners automatically feel safe and comfortable and therefore more willing to take risks. We want people to have FUN. We also enjoy educating others and that is obvious in everything that we do. Empowerment is my main goal and I personally feel successful and proud when I see someone do things better than me!
What is your current job title and what does that position entail? How long have you been in this position? Do you still teach or are you in more of an administrative role now?
I am the owner and founder of the company so I am more of the face now and I handle new business development. I am the creativity and the vision behind what we do. I come up with the new lines of business, I connect with people throughout the world to develop relationships and to keep myself active and constantly innovating. But I am still very connected to our daily activities in our centers. I have worked elbow to elbow for many years so I have mentored leaders to transmit our spirit and our desire to put children and learning first always. I am a hands on owner and I am here to lead by example so you can easily find me changing diapers, cleaning a floor, holding a baby or doing silly things on Instagram. Teaching and education keeps me alive and I am someone who truly loves children and learning and watching our brilliant teachers help children and families thrive! I work to build a strong community around kids with parents and staff and many other people in different ways. I deal with getting customers and building relationships with schools and taking care of our VIP clients so I get to go to cool events. I do not think administration and documentation and accounting are my strongest areas so I have people who do those roles (we have managers at each school and they have a staff of people to make sure the back office is organized and families feel safe leaving their children with us. I also work with the CFO and our Interim Business Development Specialist to professionalize the organization and sell our company to new markets. I like my role but I really miss being a teacher and I find myself more alive when I am around the children so I would love to get more involved in the classroom somehow but right now it is simply impossible. I am really good at the startup part and building something from nothing and watching it grow. I think growing up the way that I did, with hard-working and honest parents who raised me to be respectful and to treat everyone with kindness has served a purpose in the long-term. I feel lucky to have learned not to be lazy and to work hard and to have grit. That resourcefulness has made it possible to do what I have done in a country that is not my own.
What does your job entail? What does a typical day look like?
As an entrepreneur, I work a lot and I am always connected, even when I am traveling or on the weekend. I guess that is the downfall of the success of our schools. There is never a moment to stop and disconnect but I am not sure I actually would if I could. I have a lot of meetings, I go to conferences, I study to keep myself current and I take courses. I like to mix with people from other sectors because it makes me more creative and more useful and alive. I really do a bit of everything especially since I have professional people taking over in order to grow. Some days I simply put out fires and others I am creating FUN videos to show people that I do not take myself too seriously. No two days ever look the same!
What are the pros and cons of working in this industry?
Education as a sector is going through a tough period. Society needs more from their workers but schools are not allowed to prepare students for the realities of the 21st century. Parents are scared about the future and they want to do a good job but they do not know how to prepare children for the transformation from the Industrial Revolution to the Digital Revolution. And the instant gratification of the internet and social media has left us ALL full of distractions (parents and kids). Politicians have realized that they are less significant every day and that in the age of the internet, we all know that they are not doing the job they should be doing, which is caring for their people instead of caring for their own interests. They are distracting us all with chaos so we do not think about the corruption and the abuses they have done in our countries. They are supposed to give us the stability to work hard and raise kids in a world which will be better than the current one that we are living in and they simply are not keeping up their end of the bargain. So they just keep distracting us with this zoo-like behavior and it is every political party and every country. Unfortunately, that leads to every parent wondering whether their kids will “succeed” or not we all end up worried if we are doing a good job. The world is in constant transition and the only way to survive is to develop a strong community, work together and build happy adults. It is really about going back to basics with “soft skills” and human decency and community style living. It takes a village to raise happy adults. It is actually simple but we complicate everything right now. It is possible and I am here to help guide societies in that direction for the good of the world. I believe it is my role as an educator. Pro-making a difference, meeting wonderful families, learning something new every day and feeling challenged always. Con-having society blame teachers for all of the problems in the world when we all really need to self-reflect and take our own blame and move on!
Aside from pay, how has your career created value in your life?
I always struggled in believing in my own intelligence, whether it is because of how much pressure I put on myself, my experience with school, my being female, or my physical appearance…I have always been filled with self-doubt. I always accomplished everything through the competitive drive and working hard to and never giving up, not really because I am naturally the best. I am pretty average but I am proof that if you want something bad enough you will get it. I love that I get to wake up every day and teach that message to anyone who will listen. I think educators are undervalued and societies cannot be successful without a solid educational system and that requires experts who are in the field and inspired to do great work for children and learning. We need to remember that these schools are taking care of the most important people in our lives (our future/our children). When we attack them or scape-goat them for our own personal shortcomings or because we need someone to blame for our own life frustrations, we are getting no where with them and it does nothing but hurt our children. As parents, understand that we need schools because we have no clue what we are doing and no ability to give children 100% of the knowledge that they need in order to live without us and appreciate that other people are here to help us in this battle. We need to reflect as societies and seriously have a conversation about the direction of the world. We need to understand our own role in why there are 35% less teachers leaving the universities and why it is impossible to find anyone who wants to be a school administrator and then we need to make changes for real. We cannot force teacher to get a masters degree to educate in a classroom and then pay unlivable wages and force them to get 3 jobs in order to survive! We do not do it to doctors or fire fighters or police officers so why should we do it to our educators when they save lives too? Every other sector which requires a masters gets paid 6 figures (a teaching credential is a masters degree with a less prestigious title to diminish the extra schooling). It is simply not sustainable for anyone to keep up this cycle. It starts with respect and support and assuming intent and working together with schools instead of blaming them for every failure in the world. Blaming others is lazy and it is not productive whatsoever. And by the way…it is also the reason that I can get such great, highly trained American educators to come and work for us in Spain! We roll out the red carpet for them. (hint, hint)
What are your career goals for the future?
I would like to get the Innovation for Fun educational lab up and running and create the foundation Education for Fun to support teachers and learners worldwide. I would like to open more schools to bring our methodology to more children and families. I would also like to see English for Fun in countries outside of Spain. Finally, I want to do my part and open Spanish for Fun in American to bridge the necessary dual language gap and help more people become bilingual. Speaking more than one language gives people more options both personally and professionally and it develops empathy and it is a gateway into the skills necessary to compete in the 21st century.
By 2020, The World Forum states that the work force needs the following:
Complex Problem Solving
Coordinating with Others
Judgement and Decision Making
*These skills are much easier to develop for bilinguals because they are the foundations that are achieved from learning a second language.
What challenges are there for an American living and working in Spain? Where do I begin?
Everything is a challenge when you move outside of your comfort zone and Spain is no different. We all think of the Spanish as fun and happy and wealthy Europeans who are always loving life but there is a layer of chaos that you have to be comfortable with in Spain (and it has one of the strongest middle classes in the world and that is a key to their happiness). Nothing works as efficiently as things do in America. Lots of bureaucracy and “grey” which is confusing for someone who is used to “black and white”. It is an adventure! But I like who I have become through having the experiences of being from two completely different worlds. My kids too! There is an expat window of 2-3 years and being an expat can get lonely and that means that sometimes people do not stay true to themselves and they make connections with the wrong people (other expats), who are not good for their emotional well-being. They can get caught up in situations displaying unprofessionalism that would not occur at home. Situational friends are great to help you grow because sometimes spending time with the same people can lead to a Fixed Mindset and creativity and critical thinking suffers. Expats have a bit of “vacation mentality” and that leads them to do things they would never do at home. When it is negative, it is really unfortunate for the people from the country who trusted them with their children. It is also unfortunate for the families who trust our staff blindly. The thoughtlessness I have seen from some of our staff, when they do unprofessional things, leads to negative stereotypes and I think we all need to be more conscious of how we represent American’s abroad (and visa versa when immigrants go to the US).
If someone was interested in teaching English in Spain, what would you tell them?
If you are up for an adventure it is a great place but get a few years of experience under your belt in America first to build your resume and to be the American everyone assumes you are (hard working, creative, confident, and a skill-set to teach others). Going straight after college can put you at a disadvantage as a professional because it will be treated as a gap in your employment. It creates a hole because many people assume that just because you are abroad you are not growing professionally. Also, TEFL teaching (teaching English abroad) can set you up for unrealistic working habits at a young age and then it a harsh reality when you realize that making a livable wage in America while working Part Time is not realistic and it is tough to get out of that cycle. Become good at your trade and then you are seen as more professional and marketable and you can go to Spain (or other places) and really be the American that everyone outside of the US admires.
What are your hobbies?
Sports-running, gym programs, whatever exercise I can find the time to do. My children and my husband are important to me and spending quality time with them when possible is a must. I love to travel and see new places. Education is my hobby and I love to do new and innovative things to improve society. We are building a nature park at the school and I would like to learn more about the farm to fork concept with the children and I am always learning new things and trying new things. I like to learn new things so I am always studying something. I like to try something I have not tried before and I like the challenge and grow.
Is your husband Spanish?
Yes but he has lived in several countries and he is a world citizen. He spent every summer of childhood/adolescence in the U.S. with his family and he also went to the university there.
How did you meet and what does he do?
We met in a bar on a Sunday afternoon in La Latina (cool going out neighborhood in Madrid). He runs his family business. Sanza Seguros is an insurance broker company. He also has a lot of different projects to support his customer base. He supports us at English for Fun as our resident “problem solver” thanks to his professional background.
If he is Spanish, how have you blended your cultures?
Our kids identify themselves as both Spanish and American. Although our daughter, Olivia identifies with the US more (and she looks more Spanish) and our son, Nico identifies with Spain (yet he looks like the blonde little American boy). It is really interesting! We send them to The American School of Madrid which gives them the 100% American curriculum with American educators. We spend every summer in the U.S. and they attend Gold Arrow Camp in California for two weeks every summer so they are interacting with kids from America without our interference. My mom spends half of her time in Spain and she stays with us so she has a strong bond with the children. And they get excited every summer to spend time at the ranch in Galt with my dad so that they can learn about everything from my childhood. We plan for them to do a year of high school in America and hopefully they will go to the university the in the future.
What are the pros and cons of an international marriage and family?
hehehe, differences are the spice of life but it involves a lot of patience, a lot of negotiating and a good sense of humor! Pros-It is an enriching experience for our children and they are more open to differences because they are from two cultures, they get to celebrate double holidays and they are growing up multilingual so that just makes things easier for them in the future. They also see things with different eyes and they are easy travelers because they have been doing it since birth. You can also get away with things because you are a foreigner which helps when you screw up! Cons-My family and my very best childhood friends are really far away. Cultural differences are very big at times and that can be problematic because sometimes we simply do no understand each other and we have to get through it. I miss the organization and the way that things work in the U.S. I also think owning a business in Spain is the most difficult thing and it should be a training ground for entrepreneurship (if you can survive and grow in Spain, you can survive and thrive anywhere). It is tough to be away from home and from my culture because I feel like I do not fit in anywhere anymore.
Are you teaching your children English and, if so, why is this important to you?
Absolutely…If not I could never sell my business! It is also important that they understand me in my language because I am a different person in English than I am in my second language. It is my way of connecting with them both culturally and so that they know all of me and my native language is a connection to who I am and my history.
Original publication for https://www.galthigh.com.