Two private schools for young children have joined forces in Lawrence in hopes of giving their students a richer educational and cultural experience.
The Lawrence Day School, now in its 26th year, moved in April from 48 Carter Road to a larger, more modern facility at 510 Lawrence Square Boulevard South. Soon thereafter, the school was purchased by Jay Joshi from Jeffra Nandan, who remains on as executive director, and Margaret Kornberg, who is devoting her time to running the Community Education Center, a pre-school in Doylestown, which she and Nandan own.
With more space, about 10,000-square-feet, the day school is also the new home to the YingHua Language School, which originally met on Sundays at Rider University and during the summer in Beijing, China.
Joshi, the mother of a 4 1/2-year-old daughter, is an IT professional who became interested in educating young children when her own child began to attend pre-school. A resident of Springfield, she had been looking for a school to purchase when she learned that the partners who owned the Lawrence Day School were interested selling so that they could start a staged retirement. After working as a consultant for a number of companies, including KPMG and Carter Burgess, Joshi herself is once again a student, earning her pre-school certifications at NYU.
“You’re never too old to learn,” says Joshi, whose husband, Adnan Ahmed, an IT professional with Met Life in Somerset, is a partner in the school, although he does not plan to have a hands-on role.
The Lawrence Day School students range in age from 3 months to five years. The school is licensed by the state and accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children. It is a service of the Family Resource Center, a non-profit corporation organized in 1976 to provide educational and support services to families with young children, say Nandan, founder of the center and of the day school.
Together the two schools have an enrollment of about 60, including 12 in the Chinese language school, she says. The schools have a staff of 20 people, including three full-time teachers for Chinese program and 4 part-time teachers.
The Day School has always had a multi-cultural, multi-lingual population. Some families are immigrants and others have come to the Princeton area to work in its many global corporations. “Children walk in speaking a variety of languages, including Hindi, Danish, Chinese, Spanish, Hebrew, French and German,” she says. “We try to bring all those cultures in.”
For a child to be bilingual, he or she must be exposed to both languages, but that doesn’t mean the parent needs to speak more than one language to the child.
“Children begin to associate a language with a place or person,” she says. “They will speak English to us and then turn around and speak their native language to their parent when they pick the child up.”
The Chinese school will be conducted entirely in Chinese for students from age 3 to kindergarten. In fact, the teacher will not speak English within earshot of the Chinese students to reinforce the connection between the language and that person.
“This full-immersion model is one of the best in the world to create bilingual and bi-cultural children,” says Nandan.
In first grade, the curriculum will add 10 percent English per grade until 5th grade when the students will be learning in English half of the time, said teacher Joy Zhou, who will be working with YingHua’s founder and principal, Bonnie Liao.
“The target market is parents who have adopted children from China, family with one Chinese parent, and families who speak English, but want their children to know the Chinese language because it’s part of their culture,” Liao says. More than half the students are from English-speaking families.
“We don’t require any preliminary knowledge of the Chinese language. That’s what’s good about an early childcare program. The routine is the same from day to day so the children begin to associate the words they hear with the activities as the day unfolds,” Zhou says. We read the same story at separate times in English and in Chinese. “Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What do you see?” The teachers don’t translate between or compare the two versions. “We want the kids to do the connecting.”
Young children don’t rely on language as much as adults. For example, they spend a lot of time pretending to do things, like eating food. And sometimes, they will even make up a language.
Teaching a second language to very young children is intended to take advantage of their greater receptivity toward acquiring language. Somewhere between age 9 and 12, the brain becomes less perceptive about the nuances of sound and rhythm of language and self-consciousness takes root, as well, Nandan says.
The YingHua School is exploring following the International Baccalaureate Curriculum, an internationally recognized academically rigorous course of study.
Both programs are hoping to add enrollment when the school year resumes in the fall. Joshi, the new owner of the Lawrence Day School, says that it has a capacity for 170 children. The school is also open for day care and day camp activities over the summer. Nandan says the program strives to be as flexible as possible about how many days and sessions each child attends.
“It’s important for parents to have what they need. It’s not as important for us to have our needs met. It’s hard enough for families as it is,” she says.
Both educators have first-hand experience with learning a second language and then living in a place where they were immersed in it. Zhou, 36, grew up in Mainland China and her native language is Mandarin, but she studied English in school and received a bachelor’s degree at a teachers college there because she wanted to teach English. She came to the United States in 1995 to study. She has a master’s degree in education from the University of Bridgeport and a master’s degree in counseling from Fairfield University. Her husband, Jason, works with computer software. They have two children Jamie, 7, and Jaden, 2.
At first, adult language learners tend to go back and forth between their native language and the one they have learned, translating each idea before speaking it. It’s better to begin thinking in the new language, but easy.
“It took me years to stop “translating,” Zhou says. She found English relatively easy to communicate in, but finds the language full of irregularities that make perfection very elusive.
Nandan and her husband moved to France for his job when their daughter was a toddler. The child was always more comfortable with speaking French than her mother. “By the time she was three she was telling me, in French, `Mommy, please, you are embarrassing me. Your accent is terrible.’ “
Nandan, 59, grew up in Doylestown. She has a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education from Temple University and a master’s in social work from New York University.
After working with parent education and parent support programs, she created the Community Educational Center in Buckingham, Bucks County, and then established Lawrence Day School in 1981. Along the way, she established Family Resource Centers, a childcare program in the mid-1980s that was located at the Carnegie Center on Route 1. She also established a childcare program for employees of Warner Brothers. Studios in Los Angeles, which has since been sold to Bright Horizons Family Solutions, the nation’s largest provider of workplace child-care and early education programs.
“Child care was a needed benefit, that was easier for Warner Bros. to provide because they had space,” Nandan says. Paramount and Columbia followed suit.
Both educators say the essence of a good childcare or educational program is maintaining good staff, despite relatively low salaries. Nandan said she strives to maintain consistency by retaining staff by hiring enough people so that staff members can take time off to attend to their own family responsibilities, such as doctor’s appointments and sick children.
“We work very hard to keep our staff. Our staff members bring their children here,” Nandan says.
Lawrence Day School, 510 Lawrence Square Boulevard South, Lawrenceville 08648; 609-588-5700; fax, 609-588-5710. Jeffra Nandan, executive director. Home page: www.lawrencedayschool.com.
YingHua Language School, 510 Lawrence Square Boulevard South, Box 3004, Princeton 08543-3004; 609-530-0399. Home page: www.yinghua.org.