Following the Primrose path in Algonquin
ALGONQUIN – Primrose Schools President and CEO Jo Kirchner talked about the importance of school readiness, the state of education across the country and in Illinois, and why the Primrose model of childhood education works during a special visit Thursday night.
Kirchner, who took the company’s top leadership role in the late 1980s and has grown the company from four Atlanta schools to nearly 250 in 17 states, stood at the head of a class and spoke to parents, teachers and administrators of the Primrose School of Algonquin.
Laura and Kurt Daniel opened the Algonquin location early this year. They also own the Primrose School of South Elgin, which opened about a year ago. The two schools are the only Primrose locations in the Chicago area, with a third under construction in Naperville.
“Forty years ago, the United States was the number one nation in student outcomes, and today we are falling further and further behind,” Kirchner said. “(Based on research), the first five years of a child’s life, the development that happens in the brain has such a significant influence that it can greatly impact if a child is ready to start school.”
The Primrose model offers education for infants through kindergarten. The school, established in 1982, promotes a “Balanced Learning” curriculum consistent in each school across the country. With the child-care industry generally home to a high turnover rate, a set curriculum helps make the child’s experience less dependent on the teacher, Kirchner said.
In addition to promoting literacy and subjects like science and math, Primrose has set nutrition and exercise plans.
Many parents who attended Thursday night thanked Kirchner and shared stories about their kids’ success within the school. Tania DeFrancisco, a mother of a 3-year-old and resident of Carpentersville, said her daughter came home after a few weeks in the program and recited the Pledge of Allegiance.
“I took a video and shared it with everyone,” DeFrancisco said. “I had tears running down my face.”
Jennifer and Joe Eygnor, of Lake in the Hills, were transferred to the Chicago area for work recently, and sought out a home close to Algonquin in order to keep their two boys – Joseph, 4, and Jack, 2 – at Primrose.
“When I saw (Joseph) flourishing, I’m like, ‘I’ve got to put Jack into the day care as well,’” Jennifer Eygnor said. “Within a couple of weeks, his speech was just impeccable. He was one and a half at the time, and it was just amazing how much he just flourished in a school environment.”
During the presentation, Kirchner said students who start school before they’re ready tend to fall further and further behind.
She added that 50 percent of American children now experience child-care centers or in-home care.
“I do, and a lot of the researchers believe, that with so many children getting very poor quality child care, that has influenced the education outcomes of children,” Kirchner said.
Addressing the situation in Illinois, Kirchner pointed out high dropout rates and low ratings for childhood education.
“I would say you’re probably in the middle or below the middle of all the states in the country, if you look at all the statistics,” Kirchner said. “Obviously, the state needs to address it. There’s work to be done, but it’s far from being the worst state in the country.”
Kirchner added that the quality of schools in Illinois, as in any state, vary from region to region.
So far, the Primrose strategy has been to franchise in neighborhoods with the parental incomes to support the cost of the school. The company hasn’t ventured into low-income communities to this point.
For full-time care, the weekly cost to attend the school ranges from $237 to $300 per child, depending on age. The school also has part-time and half-day options.
“We have a lot more schools that we could open across the country in this demographic – probably 400, 500 more schools if we could put them in today,” Kirchner said after her presentation. “But we have a children’s foundation, and we’re beginning to think about how, through our children’s foundation, we could have scholarships for children. Be it where we had a school in a lower income community – a rural or an urban community – or scholarships to our schools.”
Kirchner said she envisions those efforts coming to fruition in the next three to five years. She’d like to partner with other foundations to make it happen.
“There are foundations that have money, that are interested in investing in improving low income families or at-risk childrens’ outcomes,” she said.
In the meantime, Primrose partners with an organization called “Reach Out and Read,” which puts children’s books in the hands of low-income families, and teaches parents skills to build the literacy of their children.
Last winter, the Algonquin and South Elgin Primrose schools donated about 250 books to Reach Out and Read.
Laura Daniel, who got interested in Primrose after a career with another childcare company, said after the presentation Thursday night that both the area locations still have plenty of open spots.
The Algonquin and South Elgin schools have current enrollments of 80 and 95 children, respectively. Daniel said she’s anticipating increasing those numbers and adding about a handful of teachers at each school this fall.
About a year after opening the South Elgin school, Daniel said it was nice to hear the parents talk about the impact Primrose has made in their kids’ lives.
“The best part is when you get to poke in and out of the classrooms, and hear, ‘Ms. Daniels!’” she said.
Primrose School of Algonquin:
What: An educational child day-care center catering to children from infants through kindergarten.
Where: 2300 County Line Road, Algonquin
More info: call 630-337-6131 or visit www.primrosealgonquin.com