When Jhana Pardue fell in love with the curriculum at The Learning Experience, and the way they treated her son, and pretty much everything about the facility, she decided to buy her own.w
She didn’t expect, less than two years later, to have one of the top locations across the country, to have more than two dozen employees, a waiting list and to have had all of the growth she has had.
“It has been amazing,” say Jhana, unable to contain an ear-to-ear smile from behind her desk at the The Learning Experience of New Tampa, which is located across County Line Rd. from the SuperTarget, behind L.A. Fitness.
Last year, 90 percent of the school’s first two VPK classes of 39 total students were reading — thanks to the Fun With Phonics program and great teachers, she says — by the time they graduated to kindergarten. This year, there are four VPK classes of 67 students, and Jhana says at least 90 percent will again graduate with the ability to read.
“I want to say 100 percent, but I don’t want to jinx it,” she says.
And remarkably, the building feels and smells as clean as it did when it opened in July of 2017, an underrated but big factor for many parents.
“I would definitely say they are very well organized and very clean,” says Rashida Powe, whose 19-month old daughter was the second child enrolled at the New Tampa location. “Being clean is an important factor when you are dropping your child off for a long period of time. By far, of all the places I looked at, they were the cleanest.”
That is just part of the reason for the educational preschool’s early success, and those at the corporate headquarters in Deerfield Beach, FL, have noticed.
In April, Jhana’s New Tampa location was selected for the company’s 2017-18 Rising Star Award, which is awarded to only one of the company’s 250 franchises nationwide. The award is for new academies — there were 50 eligible locations — that have been in existence for 18 months or less and had significant growth in enrollment, staff and revenue.
While picking up that award at the national convention in Boca Raton, Jhana also received a Center of Excellence designation, which is given to schools that receive a score of 95 or better on their inspections in the spring and fall. The New Tampa location was one of only 15 to receive the award last year.
“And, we’ve already confirmed that we earned it again,” Jhana says. “We actually scored higher than last time.”
When Jhana picks up that award next year at the national convention in Austin, she also has been told she’ll be receiving yet another award.
“It’s a surprise,” she says. “We don’t know what it is, just that we’re getting it. I’m nervous, but excited.”
There will be no resting on those laurels, however, Jhana says. If anything, the quick and rewarding success just means she, director Amy Rath and the rest of the staff must maintain their current high level. Today, she has 28 employees, 24 of them full-time, and they all are working together to make New Tampa’s The Learning Experience the top choice for area parents.
“I wasn’t thinking about awards, I really just wanted to make an impact and help families with their children,” says Jhana. “I wanted a well-rounded, inclusive school where all of my children can be successful and can all be individuals. Sometimes, I feel a lot of schools put a box there, and the kids have to fit in that box. It’s important to me to let them be who they are. I wanted to build that kind of culture.”
School History & Programming
The Learning Experience was founded by Michael and Linda Weissman in 1980 with a single location in Boca Raton, and was built on teaching through cognitive, physical and social principles; or as Jhana says, “Learn, Play and Grow.”
When it comes to learning, all of the Learning Experience schools use the proprietary Learning Experience Academic Program (L.E.A.P.) that Jhana says was written by educators with years of experience. It guarantees that children will graduate with “exceptional core academic skills.”
The curriculum was written around what the school’s founders believe are the six stages of development – Infant (6 weeks to 1 year old), Toddler (1-2 years old), Tawdler (2-2-½ years old), Prepper (2-½ to 3 years old), Preschooler (3-5 years old), and Kindergartner (5 years old, but not offered at all locations, including Jhana’s).
L.E.A.P. includes sign language for infants and toddlers, a phonics program and even foreign language programs. Mandarin is taught for one year, as well as Spanish.
“It’s definitely one of the things that sets us apart,’’ Jhana says.
L.E.A.P. workbooks include a journal, an interactive book and Fun With Phonics, which is specifically designed to teach reading to 3- and 4-year-olds.
Children also take part in activities that promote a healthy and active lifestyle. The Learning Experience offers eight enrichment programs for children, like Yippee 4 Yoga, Suddenly Science, Dancing Feet, Talent Sprouts and Super Soccer.
Mascots like Flexi Flamingo (P.E.), Lionstein (Science) and Bubbles the Elephant — the leader of the mascots — help lead the children through their day.
“We learn through play,” Jhana says. “The children think they are playing, but they are actually learning. We do this through small group activities, more 1-on-1 interaction and more individualized teaching.”
Jhana says the program is followed strictly, but with a few personal touches she thinks makes the New Tampa school so successful.
“It’s all about finding the right staff members,” Jhana says. “There are a lot of schools, a lot of competitors, that also have a really good curriculum. But, it’s about the execution. We don’t cut corners; it’s really making sure we’re doing it and taking pride in how we do it.”
That includes things like adding a teacher to a classroom to improve the learning experience. While the state mandates an 11-to-1 student-to-teacher ratio, Jhana — who has an Early Childhood Education Associate of Arts (A.A.) degree, to go with her Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) degree in Accounting & Business Administration from the University of Central Florida in Orlando — has put herself in classrooms and added teachers if she felt they were needed.
“Now we have three teachers in a model built for two,” she says, proudly. “We give our staff the tools they need to do their jobs, and the parents see that we really mean it.”
Powe says even after a long day at school, sometimes her daughter is still not ready to leave at 6 p.m.
“Their curriculum is awesome,” she says. “They have so much detail with the kids — they are doing something every 15 minutes. My daughter was walking at 10 months, her motion, her development, is advanced. She is 19 months now and her vocabulary is advanced. She knows sentences, at least 10 colors, can count to 10, and even some sign language. I’ve just been really impressed. It’s definitely worth my money.”
All lead teachers are required to have their Child Development Associate (CDA) certificate, which is equivalent to an early childhood education A.A degree, Jhana says. Assistant teachers have to complete 45 hours of Florida Department of Children & Families (DCF) Child Care Training.
There are cameras in every room and, in the office used by Amy and Jhana, there is a 32-inch television to monitor 16 security cameras.
“There’s also an app that lets you know everything, from when your child had their diaper changed, to when they went outside and what they ate for lunch,” Powe says. “Friday, I knew she worked on math, drew pictures and had music class. It’s pretty cool.”
To learn more about The Learning Experience of New Tampa, located at 20780 Trout Creek Dr., visit TheLearningExperience.com/our-centers/fl/tampa/new-tampa, or call (813) 575-8268.