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Bermudian preschool concept hailed in US

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A performing arts preschool concept that started in Bermuda has been winning awards in the US.

It has also attracted the attention of franchise companies interested in taking the idea further afield.

For owner and founder McCartney K. Hart, these are exciting times. There is a Perform to Learn preschool in Bermuda, and another in Scottsdale, Arizona.

While the one in Scottsdale has been winning acclaim and approaches from franchise companies, the original Bermuda location has welcomed new team members and there is an ambition to expand it into an elementary school.

Ideas that have worked well in Bermuda are being shared with the Scottsdale facility, and vice versa, to boost both preschools.

In Bermuda, Ellen-Kate Horton, a former education permanent secretary, has joined the team as a co-ordinator, along with Dwight Hart. In addition, Roxanne Christopher is assisting as a consultant.

“One of the things Dwight and I have done is identifying ways to make this programme [in Bermuda] as great at the Scottsdale programme,” Ms Hart said.

“We wanted to change the concept that this is just a babysitting, daycare facility. We removed the televisions because we wanted to have more of an organic experience with the kids.”

The preschools cater for youngsters aged 12 months to five years old, and are focused on play-based learning, with children rotated to a new activity every 35 minutes to optimise their attention levels. The activities include languages, geography, sciences, music, theatre and even a child-sized grocery shop.

The preschool in Bermuda started in 2011 with two children, and within six months had 80.

“There was nothing like it, and still to this day there is nothing like it on-island, so it became hugely successful,” said Ms Hart.

“It is a testament to the programme that we have people calling every day for tours and enrolling for the new year. The Scottsdale school had the same thing, starting with two kids and within a few months was loaded to capacity. In fact we're now getting ready to build a bigger school in Scottsdale, which will also house an elementary school.”

Both preschools have won awards. The one in Bermuda is based at the Salvation Army Hamilton Citadel, on North Road, and won a Best of Bermuda Award in its second year. It is the only preschool to win such an award, said Ms Hart.

For the past four years, Ms Hart has been growing the Scottsdale preschool, while staying involved with the Bermuda one.

Speaking about the interest from franchise companies, Ms Hart said: “There are three franchises on the table in the US, one is from an intellectual property firm.

“We were [initially] approached by a company that has other franchises. They are a franchiser of three different, kid-based companies.

“The principal said they were interested in helping us make this a global thing because it is so unique.

“Two other businesses have since come to us saying they want to do a franchising opportunity with us. We have our legal team trying to choose which one is the best one for us.”

She added: “We are elated. We have businesses coming to the door in Scottsdale constantly, probably four or five in a month, asking ‘What is this? How can we invest in it further?' They take tours and say they have never seen anything like this.

“That's why we focused on trademarking and getting it registered; trademarking the curriculum to protect the programme.”

Ms Hart said her personal elementary experience was “awful”, and that is why she is so passionate about the Learn to Perform programme.

As a youngster she faced challenges at school, but found an outlet through the performing arts that gave her skills and confidence.

In Bermuda, she started working with children, leading them in performing arts, play and education activities, and through encouragement from parents the Perform to Learn preschool idea emerged.

She has high hopes for its future in Bermuda now that Mr Hart has come back to the island to coordinate the preschool alongside Ms Horton

“Dwight has decided to come home and make sure this programme is as integral as the Scottsdale programme,” she said.

“He and I have been identifying ways to make this programme as great at the Scottsdale programme.

“The people who have got behind the changes see the importance of it and have really rallied to get us there.”

Ms Hart will continue as the visionary and guiding light of the preschools.

She said: “The thing about being a good leader is knowing your strengths and weaknesses.

“Ms Horton is an amazing asset to this business, and Dwight Hart is the love of Bermuda's life — everybody who knows him adores him. He has an amazing reputation in Bermuda for teaching and being a great person.

“We have them, and Roxanne Christopher, as the face of the movement we are making.

“Roxanne has a reputation in Bermuda for being an amazing businesswoman. She's the woman who got us started, she got our business plan and everything off the ground. She's an amazing consultant for us. She was at small business and was able to get us a grant because we are in the economic empowerment zone.”

Mr Hart is enthusiastic about his role. He said: “I have always worked with kids. That's my passion, and because of my background travelling and in Bermuda.

“It's about the future. If your future is educated — it's a gift. These kids are the ultimate gift to everybody, they are precious and we are taking care of them.”

He has been integral to renovations and improvements at the Bermuda preschool.

Weekend classes are also being rolled out, where children will be able to take dance, art, music and theatre classes.

Ms Hart said: “Our ultimate goal, because we have had business investors reach out to us, is to try and expand this out into an elementary school as well. So a private elementary, and this would be our feeder programme.”

She sees Perform to Learn becoming more global, while impacting all of Bermuda's youth. She added: “What we celebrate about the programme is that we give the children a ton of love — at this age that is as important to do.”

For more about Perform to Learn, go to

Doing the shopping: Jace Smith-Jervis, 3, and Savannah Fagundo, 3, learn the necessities of life with Dwight Hart, co-ordinator of the Perform to Learn preschool (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)
Expanding its reach: Dwight Hart and Ellen-Kate Horton, co-ordinators at the Perform to Learn preschool (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)
News and theatre: A stage area in the Perform to Learn preschool (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)
Learning is fun: a brightly decorated classroom at the Perform to Learn preschool (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)
Activities abound: a music room above a grocery shop play and learn area in the Perform to Learn preschool (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)
How things work: science subjects are the focus in this classroom at the Perform to Learn preschool (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

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Published September 05, 2019 at 9:00 am (Updated September 05, 2019 at 1:02 am)

Bermudian preschool concept hailed in US

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