Have you noticed the colorful mural on the corner of Abbot Kinney Boulevard and Westminster Avenue?
It now gives you a hint as to what is behind the tall fence. If you drive by, you will never know. If you walk by during the day, you will hear the laughter of children.
The location at 1047-51 Abbot Kinney Blvd. is the second campus of Šcole Claire Fontaine, a bilingual school.
It is for children from three-and-a-half years to six years old. The original campus, which started 18 years ago down the street at 226 Westminster Ave., is for children two to three-and-a-half.
“There we are introducing the children to the routine of the school,” says Joelle Dumas, school director.
The name of the school and the subject matter of the mural were inspired by “¿ la claire fontaine,” a French children’s song that speaks of nurturing youth. “You see the world as children are forming,” says Joelle.
Paulin Paris, an artist and parent of a student, volunteered his time to do the artwork for the mural.
“It was too obvious that something was needed,” he says. “I tried to have something universal and that would bring you, I hope, a deep vision. It has to be fun, colorful and enjoyable, but, also, if you look at it again you can find some symbolism.”
The global theme is the words of the song which link the panels together.
Working on a street corner is not Paulin’s normal modus operandi. He was a student at the Šcole des Beaux Arts in Paris and his interior murals, paintings and sculptures are featured in private residences and public spaces in Paris, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Milan, London, New York and Tokyo.
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“What was interesting for me is that it (the mural) is different from the work that I’m usually doing because you’re outside, which means that you have to compete with a lot of strong elements,” he says. “The sky, the light, the wind — visually it’s strong outside — you have to come up with something that can counterbalance that.
“The idea was to fill this empty page — to bring attention to the school.”
Paulin and his family moved to Venice last year.
“For me, it was a natural, because this is one of the most European neighborhoods in Los Angeles because you can walk,” he says. “You have a strong community life.
“It’s much closer to European life than Beverly Hills or Hollywood or Santa Monica — not only the fact that the beach is close, but also the atmosphere is really pleasant.”
It was school director Joelle’s mission to work with children.
“I received this vocation to come to America to open a school and to call it Šcole Claire Fontaine,” she says.
Two years ago the program was expanded to the Abbot Kinney Boulevard location.
The children are not all of French background. Seventeen percent are from French families, 27 percent are from bicultural families and the remaining 56 percent come from other families in Venice, Marina del Rey and Santa Monica.
The children learn three languages at the school. Four teachers speak French and one teacher speaks English to the children.
“We now have two teachers who speak Spanish, because we noticed that more and more children were coming from a Spanish-speaking environment,” says Joelle.
“A lot of times a [Spanish-speaking] nanny was dropping a child off, so we decided to add the language to our program.”
In addition to 14 full-time employees for 53 students, there are teachers for extracurricular activities — dance, theatrical productions, music (singing, guitar, violin, piano), visual arts (painting, drawing, collage and photography) and yoga.
“We encourage the children’s expression through playful creativity,” says Joelle. The children also learn about the Venice community by taking field trips to the beach, canals, library and post office.
Fruits and vegetables are grown in a garden “where the children love to work,” says Joelle. The school prepares its own jam that is served on bread or croissants for snacks.
Breakfast and snacks in the morning and afternoon are provided. A chef prepares organic lunches such as tomato salad with avocado, baked fish, rice with steamed vegetables, cheese and bread. “It’s to encourage good nutrition and health of the children,” she says.
The children also learn about French culture, as they did on March 20th, when they celebrated La FÍte de la Francophonie, an expression of unity among world-wide French-speaking communities.
In 2005 the official number of people of French heritage living in Los Angeles was 60,000. Paulin believes it might be more than that.
“When I arrived 21 years ago, it was difficult to meet with French people,” says Joelle. “Little by little we reinvented ourselves in the Franco-American manner. For example, there was no preschool then — just Mommy and Me classes. For me, it was perfect timing.”
“I don’t know exactly how things work in American preschools,” says Paulin, “but this school speaks to the most precious part of a child. I think they learn to love themselves in the right way.
“It’s like the name of the school — Claire Fontaine —what we have inside, and most of the time this part, which is the most precious, is not always well taken care of.
“The school really emphasizes that. I see the result with my daughter. She has really blossomed.”
Joelle’s vocation has turned into a lifelong passion. Some of the children who were in the school when it started 18 years ago now come back to do their community hours for high school or are teaching assistants as part of their studies in college.
“I am related to all the parents and children who have attended the school,” she says.
The training is meant to be lifelong too. It’s not only taking a group of two- and three-year-olds and giving them the tools to develop into their next stage of life, the school also provides elements for growth into the future.
“The children’s talents are nurtured so they can feel comfortable with each other and in what they bring to the community not only for now in their early years but when they reach adulthood,” says Joelle.
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