On any given weekday, the halls at The Goddard School will be bubbling with activity. Some students might be engaged in a STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art & Math) project (such as a recent one with marshmallows and sticks) while others are learning pre-reading skills with their favorite books and letters. And on the day that we visit, there is an extra layer of excitement in the gymnasium, where paramedics from Skokie Fire Department and nurses from nearby North Shore Hospital prepare for minor surgery—in the school’s annual “boo boo clinic” for stuffed toys.
“What is ailing her today?” the paramedic might ask the child clutching their favorite teddy bear. The students are quiet and attentive, waiting their turn to either get a bandage on a stuffed animal’s “boo boo” or test out the medical equipment these visiting professionals use every day.
“This happens to be the month of the community helpers theme,” explains Andrew Fratini, who co-founded the local franchise of Goddard School in 2016 with wife and partner Mary Fratini. “The teachers develop curriculum that includes showing the importance of strong community helpers. That includes firefighters, nurses, and volunteers. We’ve even had parents come in and talk about their work with different local charities,” adds Executive Director Arianna Lopez.
Within five minutes of your visit, you will see that this is not an ordinary preschool environment. Degreed teachers write their own lesson plans based on Goddard’s founding philosophy of play-based education; children develop skills in science, math, and literature through discovery; and families are included every step of the way.
“We are really looking forward to 2019 and the summer ahead, where our focus is going to be on robotics and coding at a kid-friendly level,” says Mary. “We found an amazing partner called KinderRobotics, which is play-inspired programming for children.”
The story of how Mary and Andrew decided to franchise and open their school is perhaps the greatest testament to Goddard’s reputation as a national leader in early childhood education. The couple’s two daughters were students at the Goddard School of Lincoln Park when the family was living in Chicago. But when the two professionals began to make plans to move to the North Shore, they couldn’t find anything comparable.
“We had such a great experience at Goddard. As a working mother, it gave me such incredible peace of mind that my children were going to a place that’s safe and secure. They were loved and nurtured but they were also learning from day one. That gave us peace of mind as working parents, to know that we had found a trusted partner.”
This awakening to the need for such an early childhood institution on the North Shore inspired the couple to buy their own Goddard School franchise, and they opened their doors two summers ago. Classes filled up quickly, attracting like-minded parents who value the school’s trademarked F.L.E.X. (fun learning experience) approach to learning and reaching developmental milestones. Another unique feature of the school is the extended hours (6:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.), availability of half-day attendance, and academically-driven summer camp programs—all designed with working parents in mind. Applications are already being accepted for the school’s STEAM-based summer camp programs.
“We have a lot of Northwestern faculty and staff who send their children here and it’s been wonderful, for us as well as for them,” adds Mary. “We look at this obviously as a business but it’s a home, it’s a school, and a community.”
The feeling of community touches every part of the Goddard experience, from holiday celebrations to philanthropic endeavors such as a recent food drive with the Evanston Food Bank and partnership to collect books for Bernie’s Book Bank. With their daughters now in elementary school, Andrew and Mary know from experience that the Goddard journey makes all the difference. They look forward to continued growth in the year ahead.
The Goddard School is located at 9651 Gross Point Road in Skokie, 847-773-0200, goddardschools.com.