Two teachers and mothers from the North Branford community have taken education into their own hands and started their very own school.
Katie Copeland and Jaime DeFelice, teachers for the public school system in North Branford, converted Copeland's Northford home into a learning space for young children in September 2011 to help prepare North Branford's tiniest residents for kindergarten.
The thrice-a-week school already has a waiting list for the fall and is slowly growing as word gets out of the homegrown learning facility.
Copeland shared her and DeFelice's story with Patch and gave us a little insight into their motivation and methods at .
North Branford Patch: Why did you and Jaime DeFelice decide to start Northford Preschool Academy?
Katie Copeland: It definitely was a dream of both of ours. Jaime had gotten her masters in early childhood, she really loved that age group and knew someday she wanted to work with that age group. I took time off from teaching public school to be with my family. I taught at a few preschools as a yoga teacher and just loved working with that age group. So we just took our dreams and merged them together.
North Branford Patch: How did you incorporate the preschool into your home?
Copeland: It is in the downstairs area of our house. We have a ranch-style home so we completely converted the downstairs are into a preschool. It has its own separate entrance, its own bathroom, an art room. We have 14 students currently and will have 16 in the Fall. We already have a waiting list.
North Branford Patch: Where did you and Jaime teach before you started your own school?
Copeland: We both taught in North Branford. I taught 1st grade for four years and she taught 1st and 2nd grade for nine years.
North Branford Patch: What makes your school unique from other preschools?
Copeland: The way we use picture books as a frame work–depending on what book we read, the classroom becomes part of that book. We were reading a book called Abiyoyo, which take place in an African village, so the classroom became an African village. We had a hut and wooden bowls, the fabric on windows had an African feel to it. The class transforms as we investigate the theme of each story.
North Branford Patch: How important do you think preschool is for kids?
Copeland: While it’s not mandatory, there has been talk amongst officials that one day in the future it might be. The expectations change in each grade. Kindergarten is today what 1st grade used to be, so preschool now is what kindergarten used to be. Once they enter kindergarten, they’re pretty much expected to know letters, how to write their names, colors. Not only is preschool a social piece that’s so important for kids, but it’s a way to learn how to do school with a major academic value.
North Branford Patch: Did you or Jaime grow up in North Branford?
Copeland: Jaime is from North Branford and grew up in Northford. I’ve lived in various different states, but I graduated from Hamden High.
North Branford Patch: Where did you and Jaime earn your degrees?
Copeland: Jaime got both degrees from South Connecticut State University. I got my degrees in education and liberal studies from Southern as well. I also participated in Full of Joy Yoga Training. That’s another unique aspect–I integrate yoga throughout the week through story telling and with kid-friendly posing, kid-friendly terms. The kids get to use creative self expression and come up with their own poses and names for the different animals in the books we read.
North Branford Patch: What is one thing you would like to communicate to parents looking for a preschool for their child?
Copeland: Our greatest hope is for children to just love learning. Our slogan, “Where children love to learn,” is truly our mission–for kids to really enjoy learning.
North Branford Patch: What is it about North Branford that drew you both here to start a school?
Copeland: Jaime's roots are here. She has been here since she was born, she loves the community and the small-town feel. Everyone knows everybody. She felt such a passion for having impact on the kids who live here. I fell in love with the town years ago. I grew up on a horse farm so living here in Northford sort of brings me back. It has that rural feel to it.
North Branford Patch: Where can our readers find you outside of the school setting?
Copeland: We are often at the , you can find us there. You can find us at Music Together classes in Wallingford. We are very often just walking around and talking together in the streets of our neighborhood. We also love going to the .
Northford Preschool Academy is for children ages three to five and is in session M, W, F from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. For more information, contact DeFelice or Copeland at (203) 208-1306 or visit the official school website. Make sure to check out the adorable photo gallery!