Discovering modernization and flexibility in response to operational disruptions
By Ankie Yip
Name: OKC Heartland Montessori School Year Established: 2018 Location: Oklahoma City, OK, USA Website: www.OKCHeartlandMontessori.com
In this Summer 2020 edition of our publication, I had the opportunity to discuss the founding establishment of OKC Heartland Montessori School based in Oklahoma City, OK, USA.
In the process, we welcomed Jessica Fu, Director of School, to engage in the topic of resiliency, and to discover the various successes and challenges that she has faced throughout her educational entrepreneurship journey.
Most significantly, she provided insightful ways in which the school found itself tackling and mitigating unexpected challenges in light of the pandemic during the 2019-20 academic year. Jessica’s tasks as director of the school includes administration, teacher facilitation, and assistance.
OKC Heartland Montessori School is the first school established by Future Education LLC in 2018 in the United States and currently employs six staff members. Future Education LLC was founded in 2017 by Mr. Fu who managed preschools, infant and toddler centres in Taiwan. As a recently established institution incorporating Montessori’s early childhood educational philosophy, the school opened its doors to the community, providing programs that serve children between 3 to 6 years old full time. It is rooted in Montessori principles, such as multi-age, self-contained classrooms.
Q&A with Jessica Fu, Director of School, OKC Heartland Montessori School
The Ed Exec: How did you come up with the idea of establishing a school, and what unique factors led you to make this decision?
Jessica Fu: Oklahoma City University had this wonderful Montessori Master’s Degree program where the teachers would graduate with a Master’s and an American Montessori Society certificate. With all this wonderful Montessori teachers graduating each year, there were only a few Montessori-inspired schools around the area. Therefore, we wanted to start a Montessori school that practices the very fundamental Montessori principles not only for all these graduates to practice their passion, but also to bring a great Montessori School to Oklahoma City.
TEE: What would a scheduled routine day at your school entail for your target age range between 3 to 6 years old?
JF: Our carpool starts at 8:15 a.m. Children coming in from carpool go directly to their hooks to hang their totes and walk into their classroom to start our 3-hour work time. They choose the works that they have already had a lesson on. At 11:15 a.m., we ring the bell to conclude work time. We have a short circle time that includes talking about the calendars, Show and Tell Thursday and News Tuesday. After circle time, we play outside until noon. Our school policy is to play outside as much as possible. We do not go out when it is storming, over 100F or below 32F. Other than that, we ask parents to bring weather outfits and equipment on that day. From 12 to 12:40 p.m. is lunch time. From 12:40 to 1:45 p.m. is rest time. We read chapter books for about 30 minutes and turn the music on. At 2:30 p.m., we would go outside to play again and start carpool at 3 p.m. From 3 to 6 p.m., we provide an after school program.
TEE: As a business owner, what were some of your experiences specifically during the start-up phase?
JF: To remodel an existing non-school building up to code to be a preschool was the biggest challenge. As educators, I had zero experience with construction, city zoning, state regulation, and all kinds of process involving the local government. Another great challenge was to practice Montessori at the same time in compliance with DHS licensing codes.
TEE: How about the growth phase? What were some of your experiences in that area?
JF: We were lucky to find qualified staff and teachers during our growing phases. The biggest challenge was to help the existing parents and children gradually adjust to a bigger school (higher ratio). We had two children with two teachers when we first started then grew to 16 children with two teachers by the end of the first school year.
“We were lucky to find qualified staff and teachers during our growing phases. The biggest challenge was to help the existing parents and children gradually adjust to a bigger school (higher ratio).”
TEE: What are your most memorable milestones so far?
JF: It was when we finally passed all the codes and were able to welcome children into our doors every day.
TEE: In most cases, schools are regularly modernizing their approaches to enhance their operational capabilities. What are some features that you found your school had to implement to maintain, for example, technological efficiency?
JF: We used “ChildPilot" to help with attendance, parent-teacher communication, and billings. We do not include technology in our curriculum, but teachers use drives to share and print materials and recording sheets for the students.
TEE: This year has been an exceptionally interesting one for education professionals worldwide. During this special case, how has Covid 19 in the year 2020 impacted your business?
JF: We decided to close the school right after spring break. All of our children were on school year contract so luckily, we were not hugely impacted financially. We had to suddenly move to remote teaching, which as Montessori educators, is the least of our favorite teaching method. We created individual packets for all our children each week depending on their learning preference, development level, and interests. Each of our children had two 30-minutes, one-on-one time with one of our teachers to do lessons each week, and we have live group time and story time each day.
TEE: What do you believe the situation will be like for private schools heading back in operation in Fall 2020-21?
JF: Our enrollment does not look as full as we expected. Some of the families have lost their income and some just wanted to keep their children at home. We have been practicing precautionary methods back in January when we heard about COVID-19 so we will continue that as our new normal.
TEE: From the Montessori customer's perspective, what are some interesting industry trends that you foresee or have experienced so far in your educational market location?
JF: Montessori philosophy respects each child and allows them to fully explore their interests in an independent and confident way. This is what a lot of the new generation parents are looking for. As Oklahoma City grows, more and more families have the ability to provide their children a better educational environment than the public system.
TEE: What do you believe are the most important advantages of going to a Montessori school and obtaining a Montessori education?
JF: If you ask any adults what they remember from preschool, I believe few people will be able to provide you with a thorough, rough answer. Therefore, since the beginning of starting a school, we kept asking ourselves, what do we want our children to carry with them after leaving our school? What are the things that they will carry with them without even knowing or remembering them? And no doubt, the answer is the confidence in learning, the habit of initiating learning, the ability of taking care of oneself, and the peace and kindness that grows within them. These are the most important advantages of going to a Montessori school other than being able to learn on their own pace, and the opportunity of being advanced in language and math.
TEE: With regards to school success, where do you see your organization two years into the future?
JF: In two years, we hope our early childhood classrooms can mature and the school will be able to expand to more levels to include either Lower Elementary or Toddler programs. TEE: Please provide us with your final thoughts and advice.
JF: Starting a school is not the hardest job in the world but it takes a lot of determination, passion, and hard work… It is the job that rewards you the most by just looking at the children and seeing how they grow in a day, and in three years.
TEE: Thank you, Jessica, and all the best!