Treating students like her own fuels center growth

GROWING UP: Lynsey Colgan, owner of A Child’s University, is planning to expand by adding a kindergarten program in fall 2014. / PBN PHOTO/MICHAEL PERSSON
GROWING UP: Lynsey Colgan, owner of A Child’s University, is planning to expand by adding a kindergarten program in fall 2014. / PBN PHOTO/MICHAEL PERSSON

One of Lynsey Colgan’s current goals is to “find a curriculum for the new kindergarten program.”
That’s just how she is, always writing down her goals, always pushing to the next level. That’s how her business, A Child’s University, grew from a small, early childhood education center in Cranston in 2002 to two centers with 155 children, a waiting list and a planned expansion into their first kindergarten program in fall 2014.
Kindergarten is just the next big step after the most recent major project.
“We just renovated the entire [Cranston] school,” said Colgan. “We really put our heart and soul into it. … That was a risky and scary undertaking. We just had to take a deep breath and do it.”
The renovation was one more project that Colgan took on, built on her belief that if you do things right, they work out well.
“I always had this vision. I love the country and old-fashioned look. I had this vision of an old-fashioned schoolhouse,” said Colgan.
The design was only one reason for the renovation. Three additional classrooms were added, bringing the total to five classrooms with 70 children in Cranston and six classrooms with 85 children at the second location, in Lincoln, which opened in 2004.
One feature of the two locations is that they have cameras that allow parents to look into their child’s classroom.
“I really thought if parents could watch their children, it would be cool,” said Colgan, who thought of the idea when they were starting the school. It wasn’t just about safety, but a way for parents who had to spend hours away from their children to get a glimpse of what the little ones were doing now and then.
From her casual remark, her husband and business partner, Jay Colgan, who has a degree in business from Bryant University, ran with the idea. It’s not an out-of-the-box setup. He designed the system and managed the implementation. The two cameras per room, with no sound, are accessible by logging on to a computer and now, with an app for iPhone. The passwords are changed regularly to make the system secure.
Many parents use it frequently when their child first enrolls in the school, but then often use it less as the comfort factor about their child’s safety and learning experience increases, Colgan has found.
A Child’s University enrolls children from 6 weeks to 6 years old, a bit of a leap from where Colgan started in education. She majored in secondary education at Rhode Island College and taught eighth grade for one year. Then her new path beckoned to her out of the eighth-grade classroom.
“I … quit the job everyone said is really hard to get. They said, ‘Don’t do it,’ ” she said.
Colgan had taken a few business classes in college. She wasn’t sure where they might lead, she was just interested.
“I think I’m a little bit of a control freak. I know that was part of it, I wanted to be in charge of my own vision and my own destiny,” said Colgan. “Owning your own business is your chance to do it like that – to wake up every day and say I’m going to do it the very best I can do it,” said Colgan.“If I’m going to try my hardest and do the best I can, this is going to work.”
In all aspects of running the school, Jay Colgan said his wife sets the highest possible expectations based on best practices from a wide range of businesses. In nominating his wife for a business award, he wrote: “She borrows customer-experience techniques from the [Walt Disney Company]. She uses marketing ideas employed by Starbucks. When it comes to managing her “team members,” she follows successful strategies developed by Target. She pulls the best aspects of these leading companies and blends them into her business.” While they might have launched a variety of businesses together, they enjoyed providing a good environment for young children.
“I think we loved the purity of this field, that we could impact children,” she said.
The word “university” in the name of the school reflects their seriousness about creating a learning environment, even for the very youngest of children.
“Sometimes in this field we get a reputation as day care. But we’re by no means just putting children in a swing or a bouncy seat. We’re very serious about making everything as high quality as we can,” said Colgan.
“The babies are painting at 6 weeks old. We put paint on their hands and feet,” she said.
The teachers are critical for the high-level learning environment, said Colgan. The school has 80 employees, most of them full time.
All the lead teachers have a degree in either elementary or early-childhood education. For the other teachers who don’t have either of those degrees, the company pays for them to study and get certification in child development.
“We have really great teachers. A big reason they stay with us is because of the way we run our school,” said Colgan. “We appreciate them, and the way the school is designed they don’t get burned out.”
Providing a quality environment for young children to get a good start in life has always been more than just a job. But since they’ve had their own children, who are now 4 years old and 6 years old, the meaning of their work is even deeper, she said.
“Being a mom and my family mean everything to me,” said Colgan. “Our school aligns with that. I feel all these children are my children and I want to give them what I give my own children.
“I think that’s how we look at it, all of us at the school,” said Colgan. “I think we see all these children as our children.” •

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