ENGLEWOOD — Cindy Googins’ daughters always loved to be active outside, but thanks to the TerraNichol Academy of the Arts Preschool in Englewood, they have a deeper appreciation of the outdoors.
The TerraNichol Academy is influenced by the Reggio Emilia Approach, which emphasizes natural development of children and environmental awareness. The school blends a variety of creative subjects and influences including yoga, Zumba, Spanish/Italian culture, culinary arts, photography, poetry and green living, according to the school’s founder, Terra Tominelli.
“It’s a very nurturing place,” Googins said. “When I talk to other parents, I tell them how they make children into better people. I’d recommend this to any parent.”
Googins already has referred seven families to the school.
“One thing I’m struck by is how calm the environment is,” she said. “I think it’s something they should encourage in children, to be better stewards to the environment as a green school.”
Michelle Messier, educational program director of TerraNichol Academy, said what makes the school unique is the autonomy it affords the children in their learning.
“We take the children’s ideas and thoughts seriously and incorporate that into their everyday experiences,” Messier said. “We allow them to be their own facilitators in their education as well.
“We find once they’re in the environment and they’re allowed to self-express, the natural creativity starts to blossom. It develops as the year progresses. You’ll always see new development happening with their creativity.”
Messier said no two years or two weeks are ever the same, because student creativity is always evolving.
“We have a few projects going on,” she said. “We have been doing a lot with our worm compost; a fairy garden; and projects with butterflies, ladybugs and sunflowers. We’re exploring creative possibilities with lemons, like examining the insides and making lemonade, Gak and Play-Doh.”
Messier said the school has 20-30 projects scheduled throughout the year, and the curriculum is 80 percent from the students and 20 percent from the teachers.
Tominelli said she started out with one child when the school opened in 2006. “I had a parent in one time and she told me, ‘You only have one child.’ I replied, ‘Well, you have to start somewhere,’ and she enrolled her son, and the next thing you know, it was word of mouth, with parents telling other parents. You just have to push and accomplish the goal you set out to do. It took about a year before I got a steady stream of kids. I think our second year was one of our best years.”
Tominelli said another key to success was the school’s relationships with Englewood art establishments.
“Our philosophy parallels with the artists’ district,” she said. “I think with our school, we work parallel with what the parents want to see in the community, as well as education they want to see in their students.”
Messier said the school is funded primarily through a private scholarship fund called the Dream Fund, which is offered through Tominelli. The school also does a lot of fundraising throughout the year. The academy offers free voluntary prekindergarten and scholarships through the Early Learning Coalition.
TerraNichol is looking to help new educators in a program called the Inspired Teaching Internship, where they will learn to teach in the Reggio Emilia Approach.
“I don’t think (what we do) is hard,” Messier said. “Once you have the inspiration and the will to do it, then it becomes your driving force and your driving factor. Then once you see what the students get out of it and how involved the families are, you know you’re making a difference in the community.”
TerraNichol Academy is located at 701 Old Englewood Road. For more information, call 941-474-3000.