The Principal’s Office: Meet Christian Jarlov. Seasoned bilingual educator proud of La Jolla’s French-American School

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• VIDEO: Watch part of the interview with Christian Jarlov, head of school at San Diego French-American School in La Jolla, by clicking on the image above, or go to:

Christian Jarlov is the head of school at San Diego French-American School in La Jolla. The independent school enrolls students in preschool to eighth grade. (Photo by Daniel K. Lew)

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the fourth of a 13-part series bringing you interviews with principals of the 13 schools in La Jolla every other week.

By Catherine Ivey Lee

When it comes to extolling the benefits of French bilingual schools, Christian Jarlov speaks from a world of experience — literally.

Prior to becoming head of the Mount Soledad-based San Diego French American School three years ago, Jarlov had taught at, run or founded no fewer than six French international schools on five continents. His wife, Sylvie, taught at the schools as well, and the couple’s son graduated from a French international school (he is now, dad proudly notes, working on a Ph.D. in physics in Switzerland).

Given the family’s ties to such schools, it is little wonder that Jarlov believes his current school has much to offer the community.

“We are very lucky to have such a good school like this here in La Jolla,” Jarlov said in a recent interview in his office, which is decorated by black-and-white photographs of his native France along with two clocks, one set to San Diego, the other to Paris.

The only fully accredited school of its kind in San Diego, SDFAS is part of a network of 43 French American schools in the U.S., all of which share a similar bilingual curriculum and emphasis on global education and awareness, Jarlov says. The school is also part of an accredited network of 460 French international schools.

The school offers students, ages 2-13, a dual-immersion program in French and English. Not only do students master important language skills, Jarlov says, but they also learn to think in another language and to evaluate different perspectives and question viewpoints.

In addition, students benefit from the school’s international environment. Jarlov estimates that nearly 20 languages and nationalities are represented at the school, which draws 40 percent of its students from the La Jolla area.

Worldly and affable, the French-born Jarlov appears to be proof of the possibilities that a multilingual skill set and global outlook brings.

Born in Paris, Jarlov initially followed in the footsteps of his artist parents and became a professional painter. But after finding the work isolating, Jarlov turned to languages, having studied both Spanish and English in middle and high school. After earning linguistics degrees at the University of Bordeaux, his took his first international job: teaching French to Louisiana public school students, part of the state’s efforts to preserve its French language roots. The work greatly appealed to him.

“For me education was the next thing,” Jarlov explained. “If I was not going to be a famous painter like Picasso, I wanted to be an educator because I really love that.”

From there, Jarlov hopscotched the globe. He and his wife founded the first French international school in Zimbabwe and went on to work at French international schools in Riyadh, Saudia Arabia; Senegal, Africa; and in Singapore. Jarlov also worked as a teacher and director of pedagogy at San Diego French-American School when the school was located in Clairemont (the school moved to La Jolla in 2006).

More than a decade later, he and his wife returned to the school, this time for Jarlov to become its headmaster.

As head, Jarlov begins his days at 5 a.m. sans alarm clock and with a cup of Earl Grey tea. He answers e-mails and sets the day’s agenda before greeting students as they arrive at school at 8 a.m. Detailed and organized by nature, Jarlov said he spends considerable time planning the school’s future, including developing its middle school, which was recently expanded with five new classrooms.

In addition, Jarlov has overseen the addition of a fourth language at SDFAS; besides French, English and Spanish, students now have the option to learn Mandarin.

Jarlov is eager to educate the public about the school, including the misconception that students must speak or be French to attend. While the school attracts native French speakers and the children of French parents, he explains, all young students learn French at the school: pre-elementary school students, ages 2-5, receive nearly all of their instruction in French.

By the third grade, instruction takes place half in French and half in English. Students learn all subjects including math, science, French and American literature in both languages.

Jarlov, who loves to stroll the campus and chat with students in French, is also working to inform the La Jolla community about the benefits of bilingual education beyond just language acquisition.

“If you learn a language at an early age, before 5 or 6, the brain’s nervous system develops differently. It has more facilities to process data and information. Students develop skills that make them a lot stronger in their own language in disciplines like science and math,” he said, sharing that a new alum recently told Jarlov that he found American high school (in which all subjects were taught in one language) easy by comparison to SDFAS.

Jarlov was thrilled. “Our students are challenged all the time to look at the situation, and to ask questions. Our students are probably different but when they move on to high school they will be the type of students who are always questioning, always wanting to know why. That’s really in the spirit that we try to work with our students.”

• About San Diego French-American School
Address: 6550 Soledad Mountain Road, La Jolla
Type of school: Independent
Year established: 1988
Number of students: 360
Grade range: Preschool to eighth grade
School colors/mascot name: Blue, white and red; The Stingrays
Tuition: $14,000 per year
Phone: (858) 456-2807

• UP NEXT: Meet Jim Solo, principal of Torrey Pines Elementary, in the Dec. 27, 2012 issue.

“The Principal’s Office” Archives, so far, for this ongoing series:
You can read profiles of principals from previous issues at:

Related posts:

  1. The Principal’s Office: Meet Patricia Lowell. Principal of Stella Maris Academy keeps children in mind
  2. The Principal’s Office: Meet Alison Fleming. Powered by hugs, the head of La Jolla’s The Gillispie School strives to lead by example
  3. The Principal’s Office: Meet Jill Platt. Coffee, prayer and love of students fuels All Hallows Academy principal in La Jolla
  4. All Hallows Academy hosts Family Fun Night ‘on-the-range’ in La Jolla
  5. Taste of La Jolla raises $19,000 for La Jolla High School

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Posted by Staff on Dec 13, 2012. Filed under Featured Story, La Jolla, Schools, The Principals Office. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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