What started in Chambersburg as a dream to create a "nursery school" with flexible hours to meet busy parents’ needs has blossomed into a three-decade legacy of childcare and early childhood education.
Executive Director Lisa Forrester left her career as a public school teacher in 1981 when she and her husband were beginning to think about a family. They wanted a childcare center that would meet the needs of working parents, especially two working parents, so Forrester started Harmony Schools.
"I transitioned into early childhood education, earning a certificate then a master’s," Forrester said. "The business side I learned by doing, and 30 years later this small business has succeeded despite economic ups and downs."
The first Harmony Schools center was in the old Fulton Street Soldiers and Sailors buliding, formerly an Italian Social Club in Chambersburg that was close to the county seat and state and government offices.
Forrester recalls that at the time, that section of Trenton was a hub of activity and attracted young couples just starting out. From there the program grew to six schools throughout Mercer, Middlesex, and Somerset counties.
And though Harmony Schools has been caring for and educating young children for three decades, the demise of employer-paid child care and related benefits –– as well as the associated contracts –– made Forrester take a hard look at the number of centers.
"I was also in the car as much as I was in the centers observing classrooms, meeting kids and parents, and staying in touch with teachers," she added. "We decided to consolidate to the two centers we have today in Princeton and in Robbinsville."
Harmony Schools is part of the "education end" of the Princeton Forrestal Village. It is housed in a brand-new building completed last August, while the renowned Eden Institute is slated to take over Harmony’s old building when its construction is done in 2012.
The Robbinsville Harmony Schools center has been open since 1994, and is located in Foxmoor near the Town Center in this rapidly growing, young community.
"The programs also have come a long way since 1981," she said. "We accommodate children from 6 weeks through 9-years-old. There’s half-day nursery school/pre-school, full-day, drop-in care, before and after school programs, school-age back-up care, pre-K plus, kindergarten and summer camps. But the philosophy remains the same."
For Forrester, this is not only a celebration of Harmony Schools’ anniversary, but also a celebration of her own and that of its many long-term employees.
"Women have always had several ‘lives’ and careers," Forrester said. "It will be even more so for today’s young women in their 20s and 30s. We can be the constant as young families have children so they can make decisions about work and child care and know that if they trust us, their child will be well cared for at Harmony Schools." See display ad on page 26.
The Harmony School at Princeton Forrestal Village. 1 Merwick Road, Princeton. 609-799-4411. www.harmonyschools.com
The Harmony School at Foxmoor. 2022 Washington Boulevard, Robbinsville. 609-443-7575.