At Young School, innovative education spells success

Founders pondering $4 million expansion

November 05, 2001|By TaNoah Morgan | TaNoah Morgan,SUN STAFF

Josh Young has an eye for spotting a growing business.

In the late '70s, he latched onto the computer world of Silicon Valley, working for a company that manufactured disk drives. Now he's in Howard County, the second-best-educated county in the state, as chief executive of a private elementary school and a string of early-educational centers that are expanding at an impressive clip.

Last month, the Young School, founded by Young and his wife, JoAnn, opened an early-education center in Columbia. Another center is being built just across the Anne Arundel County line in the Village at Waugh Chapel.

At the same time, the Youngs are thinking about expanding the elementary school - teaches children from kindergarten through fifth grade - through the eighth grade. They are grappling with a decision to launch a $4 million plan to expand their building to accommodate additional students.

The two new facilities will give the Young School a growth rate of 30 percent this year and bring the number of employees in the business to about 200, Young said.

That is a feat in today's child-care climate, said Debbie Yare, program manager with the Howard County Child Care Resource Center. The child-care industry typically suffers from a high turnover rate for teachers - and low satisfaction among them - she said.

"Right now, there's a tremendous staffing shortage in child care," she said. "The staff costs can be very high. That's one of the reasons some centers don't offer infant care."

In Howard County, several private facilities offer early-childhood education. Some, like Children's World Learning Center, Kinder Care and La Petite Academy, are part of national chains.

Others, such as Columbia Academy and the Young School, also have private elementary schools.

Josh Young said his centers are so highly regarded that that each was full when it opened. Parents and teachers are attracted by an early-education program that draws from an Italian concept said to be one of the best in the world.

What parents see at the early-education centers is a program influenced by the Reggio Emilia village approach to early-childhood education.

The program focuses on encouraging children to discover their environment at their own pace, and prompts them to observe, theorize and analyze. Working in groups and project-based learning are also key to the program.

To that end, Young School centers are arranged in "villages" in which children of different age groups have an opportunity to interact with one another. Infants are grouped by birth date and stay together though age 2; 3- and 4-year-olds share space with 2-year-olds in another grouping of villages.

Each preschool cottage of 52 children is staffed with six teachers and a director. Having a cottage director makes things easier for the teachers but makes for more people to manage, Josh Young said. Salaries for teachers are the chief expense.

"Watching the costs and staying profitable is the largest challenge," he said. "If 57 percent of your revenue [goes to] payroll, there's not a lot of room for error."

Monthly fees at the school are $1,048 for infants, $772 for full-time 2-year-olds and $740 for full-time 3- and 4-year olds.

In addition to the Italian concept, it helps that the centers are in a community heavily committed to education, he said.

"The demand is there right now," he said. "There's not enough quality centers for the demand. The parents see what their kids are learning. We have four-year-degree teachers in the classrooms."

The Young School was the vision of JoAnn Young, who holds a master's degree in education from the Johns Hopkins University and was a public school teacher in Prince George's County. She wanted to create a school in which even the youngest learned critical thinking through group projects.

"It's always been [a goal] to provide a very high-quality school and not just be a day care center," JoAnn Young said.

"When I was teaching in public school, it was all project-based [education]. I began my preschool with that in mind - high-level thinking skills, applying the concepts you learned."

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