Marc-Pierre Jansen runs the Middle School Program (MSP) during the summer and spends the rest of the year working for TASIS in the United States, where he visits with inquiring families, educational consultants, and American schools on behalf of TASIS Switzerland, TASIS England, and all the TASIS Summer Programs. Amelia Panella ’18 interviewed Mr. Jansen to learn more about his background and the outstanding program he directs each summer.
How long have you been the director of MSP, and can you briefly describe what you do in this role?
I first came here because I had a professor who had taught at UVA with Dr. Michael D. Aeschliman [the husband of Lynn Fleming Aeschliman, who is the daughter of TASIS Founder M. Crist Fleming and the current Chairman of the Board of Directors.] This professor was my thesis advisor—I was doing French Studies—and he asked me what I wanted to do when I finished college. I told him, “I speak French, so I want to go somewhere where I can use my French,” which is when he told me he had a friend who worked at a school in Switzerland. He contacted Mrs. Aeschliman, who was coming by my town in Virginia, and I had brunch with her and she hired me. That was in February 2002, and I started off at TASIS as a counselor. When I arrived at TASIS, I stepped out and looked around at where I was and thought, “This is so gorgeous—I can’t give up this job.” I went back to the US and saw my friends working in these big firms, and I saw that they weren’t really happy. I could see myself being really unhappy there.
That first summer at TASIS I worked so hard that I promised myself I wasn’t going to come back, but a year later I looked at some photos we had taken and decided I would give it a chance. So I came back and five years later I was the director of the program. I’ve been working with Mrs. Aeschliman for the last 17 years, so I think I have a pretty clear vision of where TASIS is going. My big job is to show the new staff every year what TASIS is all about, how we’re different, and how we can fulfill our mission.
My job now is to manage the Middle School Program. I do all the hiring and review all the policies, but my job is not simply administrative. I also go on a lot of trips and make sure the students are where they’re supposed to be and the staff have what they need to be successful. One of the neat things about the job is that there are so many different facets to it. Because I am in administration, I get to see the program through the trees. I get to see where we’re going with the vision.
What do you like most about working at TASIS?
What I like the most about working here is that you never know what’s going to come through your door. I’m not only an administrator, I’m also like a father to the kids and the staff. There are so many different requests, ranging from the simplest, smallest things to complicated situations. There’s always a surprise behind the door. I also really like taking care of the students even just for that short period of time. For many of the students it’s their first time being boarders, and they can be very anxious so it’s important to make sure they’re having a good time.
I truly believe that by the time they leave TASIS, they’re different people.
What do you think makes the TASIS Summer Programs unique?
First off, the location is unlike anywhere else. And the school itself has one foot in the old and one in the new—it’s moving ahead and looking forward while never forgetting where it’s coming from.
We have many different local trips, and the students can learn so much from just this area. We also have a unique opportunity to bring kids together from all over the world. It sounds cliché, but I do feel that it’s important. The students learn to talk to each other, and one thing we do is have students room with students who don’t share their same mother tongue. I think that teaches students to be a good neighbor. If you’re not a good neighbor when you’re 12 in a roommate situation, you might be a statesman one day and you won’t be a good neighbor to your bordering countries. I think it’s a small step but also a significant one. Many of the students that come here, their biggest apprehension is meeting people from different countries. But once they leave they can say, “I now have a friend in Turkey, Nigeria, Belgium, the US, and so on.” With social media they can keep in touch and some of the students are returning because they’ve kept in touch and they come back together.
There are also so many different parts to the day that are so exciting to the students. I call them the three pillars: the first pillar is the academic, the second pillar is the cultural aspect, and the third pillar is the boarding experience.
Can you describe the changes you see in MSP students over the course of a summer session?
Every year I send a survey to parents, and one of the questions I ask is, “Has your child matured since coming to TASIS?” It’s always about 98–99% that say yes. The question doesn’t go on to ask how, but I think it’s because a lot of the students are coming from a day-school background and this is their first boarding experience. We run the summer programs here like a boarding school. The students come here and they may not be used to doing something as simple as making their bed every morning, which they have to do here. They have to clean their rooms, bring their laundry down, and be at certain places on time. The students learn independence. We often see a student who had struggled to do something on their own at the beginning but by the end of the summer is taking the initiative to do something such as setting the table for dinner or helping a counselor with a task.
The dynamics of the Musical Theater program also help bring out confidence in the students. If they’re going to sing for the first time in front of a crowd or speak in front of a crowd, or also just speak at a morning meeting, they have the opportunity to grow in an environment that is really supportive. I truly believe that by the time they leave TASIS, they’re different people.