“She found that she loved it,” said Lori Sharp, president of the school’s parent organization. “It allowed her to be an educator and be with her children and find a passion she didn’t know was there.”
Two years ago, Gardner expanded by leasing a large building at 120 North Hillcrest Drive, but the school continued to grow “by leaps and bounds,” Sharp said, and currently has 56 students.
The school grew so much that Gardner ended up with 100 kids on her waiting list, some of whom hadn’t even been born, Sharp said.
“Mothers who found out they were pregnant would get on the list even before telling their friends they were pregnant,” Sharp said.
Finally, Gardner made the decision to purchase the building and expand. The new addition, which will double the capacity of the school, will open in September.
The expansion will not only enlarge the school, which means more teachers will be hired, but has also created construction jobs, and both will help the local economy, Sharp said.
But it’s what Gardner does to help kids that strikes Sharp as extraordinary. Gardner believes that education begins at birth, she said, and Bright Beginnings is not just a day care, but an educational setting for children as young as six weeks old up to first grade.
“She really believes that education begins at birth, and there are different things that kids of all ages can learn, and she really empowers them to reach their potential,” she said.
As she is expanding the school, Gardner is hiring only certified teachers and is also expanding the curriculum to include Montessori classes, kindergarten and an option for first grade. To learn more, go to www.brightbeginningsmontrose.com or call 252-3399.
Gardner has also extended after school and enrichment programs, Sharp said.
“Some parents don’t get off work until 5, and [after-school] kids will have small group activities or specialized study,” she said. After-school students are either picked up or taken home by bus, she said.
Gardner is a native of Montrose and a graduate of Montrose High, Sharp said, and recently received an Alumni of the Year Award from her alma mater.
“From a human interest perspective, she is a local gal, a teacher in the school district, who found a way to have a business that also allows her to be with her family,” Sharp said. “Everyone who meets her finds out how dedicated and passionate she is about how kids are much more capable” regarding with early learning, Sharp said.
The school’s prices are in line with other preschools in the area, Sharp added, and Bright Beginnings also offers child care assistance programs for parents who qualify.
“She has comparable prices but is definitely 10 steps above,” Sharp said. “She is dedicated to quality teachers and experiences, and the classrooms are not stereotypes.”
Gardner believes that different children learn in different ways, and she’s using many different methods, including even teaching some classes outside.
One outside learning area that Gardner has developed is the Sensory Garden, where kids can experience the sights and smells of growing a garden.
“The children will have an area they’re responsible for and ultimately there will be food that they can incorporate into the food program,” Sharp said.
The secret to good teaching is to keep the kids engaged, Sharp said.
“Her challenge is more focus on education and engaging the whole mind and body,” Sharp said. “She treats the whole child as a learning opportunity, but she doesn’t take away the fun.”
Another teaching method is to have teachers in all grades touch on some of the same subjects, but at appropriate levels for each class.
“Say the focus of the month was patriotic, then all the teachers would incorporate that into their curriculum,” she said, and each grade level would learn a different aspect, and add to interactions of both teachers and students.
In addition to Montessori classes, the school is also adding kindergarten and first grade, Sharp said.
“She hired some fabulous local certified teachers and will have expanded capacity,” she added.
The school is not faith-based, Sharp said, and her own children are getting an excellent education in an environment steeped in early learning.
“I would compare it to what my friends’ kids get in Denver at high-priced day care kindergartens,” she said. “My child is getting the same education for a much lesser price.”