Getting to do what you love to do for a living is fortunate. When Goddard School owner Debbie Lee goes to work, she feels like not only is she lucky to love what she’s doing, but that it’s especially meaningful to have such an impact on her students and their families. She says since she opened the combination school and daycare at 385 Danbury Rd. in Nov. 2014, she has put her heart and soul into it.
“It’s been a lot, starting a business. Especially being responsible for little humans so it goes beyond the normal business practice. I take it super-seriously. I’m here all day, all the time. It’s been a lot, but it’s been good.”
The school primarily serves families whose parents work outside of the home and want to be able to enroll their children in all-day care. Goddard accepts children from 6 weeks of age up to 5 years old, and is open from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.. With classrooms divided by age (infants, 12-18 months, 18-24 months, 24-30 months, 3-, 4- and 5-year olds), Lee says she loves to see how the kids progress.
“A 3-month-old who started with us back in November 2104, and now she’s walking around, talking to us. You really do see this huge change. They go from being helpless to being these interactive little human beings. Then, full circle in 4 years when she’ll be kindergarten age, they’re real little people.”
As an involved owner-operator, she loves being part of everything. Her office is right up front and that makes sure she’s there for the kids and the parents.
“”What I focus on is that the children who are here are happy and well-cared-for. And that the expectations of the parents are being met. My favorite area, it’s the baby room, for sure, you just can’t help but go in. My office is so close, when I hear them I go in, rub their back, give them a bottle. And the best part of the day? I get hugs every day before the kids go home. And knowing that kids go home happy. Or funnily enough, even when kids cry because they don’t want to go home because they’re having a great time,” she says.
She says that having the owner on-site is something that helps reassure parents. “It isn’t typical of a child care center, I’m here every day and I also have a director who manages the teachers, supporting them and. getting them what they need and making sure the curriculum is being implemented on a regular basis. I do the business side. I tour the families and make sure that they’re happy with what they’re getting once they enroll.”
Admittedly says Lee, it took a bit to get some Wilton parents to consider Goddard and give it a chance.
“Because we’re so big in size, some people were hesitant to give it a look. They thought we were so ‘corporate.’ But our classrooms are sized perfectly for kids. And this is really our family business, this is what we do.”
She’s eager to communicate that the Wilton location is really much more of a smaller community.
“Once we had referrals, our first 30 children and those families were happy and they told people and that’s how we’re drawing students,” she says, adding that at least 85-percent of the students are from Wilton, with the rest made up of children from Ridgefield, Weston and Norwalk. “It’s a local school.”
Lee says they love being located where they are not just because it’s such an accessible, central location for many residents, but also that they are nestled in near the public schools. “The kids like to go outside and listen when the marching band practices. Right before the football games, it’s fun. It’s part of the ebb and flow of the town. Thinking way down the line, when our kids will be in high school, they can come intern here! It will be great to come full circle.”
Right now the school is at 75 students, but the capacity is 128, so Lee encourages parents who are looking for schools to come in to learn more about the program and what’s offered.
Curriculum and Standards of Care
As a Goddard school, the Wilton location uses a curriculum developed by Goddard’s national education advisory board, setting the developmental milestones for each classroom.
“Parents can have a core baseline of what is expected to be learned at each age group, and then our teachers here create the fun, creative, day-to-day lesson plans around that,” Lee explains.
Lee says the Goddard approach is backed by research.
“Goddard has been around for 28 years and has a proven philosophy and historical data data: they’ve followed these children to see how they’ve done in school. The CPAA Children’s Progress Academic Assessment research found that children who have gone to Goddard schools perform better.”
Goddard’s philosophy is called FLEX curriculum–Fun Learning Experience.
“It’s setting the right environment having it be fun and interactive; having ‘child moments,’ carefully thought out toys that facilitate learning, and at the core is a philosophy of learning through play. They become more creative, they advocate for themselves, and problem solving is more creative-based because of that kind of learning,” she says.
Lee isn’t speaking as just the owner; she decided to open the school after two of her own children went through Goddard as students–her eldest was born in 2003 and started that same year.
“I loved the idea and wanted to do something like that, where you can really have an impact on kids. We moved states to do this,” she adds, noting that they lived in New Jersey, but moved to Fairfield County to open this Wilton location.
Having been a Goddard parent, it makes Lee as owner always look at things from a parent’s perspective: “Every time I walk into a classroom I’m always thinking, If I were a parent what would I want to see? I ask myself, How would I feel if I were a parent walking in here?”
One of the things Lee pays particular importance to is cleanliness and safety—classroom protocols have strict guidelines about how to clean and sanitize toys multiple times during the day, the number of steps to follow changing a child’s diaper (19!), and sticky doormats to pick up dirt from shoes before someone walks into the infants’ room where babies are more likely to be crawling on the floor. Even the occasional knick on a wall gets a paint touchup frequently.
“It’s nice and new and clean, because I’m attentive to it. It’s hard to drop your child off here every day and it helps make you feel better when you do.”
Security is a focus too; parents have a unique passcode and there’s a hand scan entrance feature, for added security. “Otherwise, they don’t get in.”
Daily reports about the days events go home with each child via an app that gets updated by teachers on an iPad in each classroom.
“When a child goes down for a nap, the teacher can just click ‘nap’ and ‘woke up’ so at the end of the day parents can see exactly when the child napped and for how long, when and what they ate and how much of it. The activities that went on and what the curricular goal is–why they were doing those activities. That really helps when they’re asking the kids questions about their day, or you can read the same book at home, to reinforce what went on during their day,” says Lee.
Pictures are also sent to parents during the day.
“I can take a picture of their smiling infant, hit send, and they get it at the office. Having those little things throughout the day…if you’re having a bad moment at work, to see a nice picture, that they’re having fun with their friends, it’s everything. To know someone is thinking about your child and what you need to see to feel good about what they’re doing in their day. Knowing exactly what went on with them during their day—knowing what they ate, knowing how much they napped—you have an accurate record and it’s all important.”
Of course, babies who are at Goddard need different things than do the toddlers and pre-schoolers. The curriculum at every stage is differentiated based on the developmental stages, but it all includes a lot of play and academic foundations of pre-school as well as even sign language and Spanish. For the pre-school aged kids, Goddard has a SmartBoard, just like what the kids will see when they move on to kindergarten and grade school, so that they begin to become familiar with using it themselves as part of their daily life in the classroom.
There are separate outside areas for the children based on age, with age-appropriate play equipment and shaded spots. Again, in these areas safety and security are things Lee likes to emphasize for anyone on a tour. From the padded playground surface to cameras on the corners of the building to alarms on the gates, it’s definitely safe. There’s also a large, enclosed grassy area where bigger kids can run around and where Lee envisions a vegetable garden and flower garden that they hope to plant later in the year. She’s also hoping to implement a soccer program too.
But for many of the kids, it is a long day, given that much of Goddard’s mission is to help families with parents who work. “It’s supporting the whole child, it’s not just about the academic. So much of it is socialization. They need to be socially ready as well. Learning to play helps with that, because they become collaborative.”
To come check out the school, Lee suggests visiting the website, and either scheduling an appointment there or by calling (203.408.0865).
“We enroll all year long, because people are constantly moving here. We’re open all year, not just on the public school schedule. There’s only one week closed, between Christmas and New Years, and major holidays. There are two faculty development days and the major holidays, but other than that, we’re open. We know that our families are working parents. It doesn’t stop for them.”