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Reggio Emilia-inspired school opens in Plainfield

Selvi Rajkumar has a background in finance, so she may have seemed a little out of place when she started inquiring about opening a school based on a European way of teaching children.

But Rajkumar was not deterred. She took child care courses and found a franchise willing to help her build her dream school.

In October, Rajkumar’s dream came true. KLA School in Plainfield opened with 16 children ranging in age from 6 weeks to 12 years.

“It took about 2 1/2 years to build, and it was my dream to start a school,” Rajkumar said.

What makes the $2 million KLA School unique is it emphasizes the Reggio Emilia philosophy of learning, which is more prevalent on the East Coast and in Florida.

The Reggio Emilia-inspired philosophy is one that started in Italy after World War II in the town of the same name. It’s a philosophy in which children are encouraged to be leaders and teachers don’t dictate what happens in the classroom. Instead, teachers assist the students in their interests and encourage them to pursue those interests and incorporate them into the curriculum.

“My niece went to a Reggio school and I fell in love with the philosophy of that,” Rajkumar said. “I believe the children’s interests are (prioritized). We have special enrichment programs and we offer different activities.”

‘It’s like a children’s museum’

There are 11 classrooms in the KLA school, including a piazza in the middle of the building and an art studio, and all of them feature furniture made from natural materials such as wood. There also are wooden Legos made in Japan in one classroom. The all-natural concept falls in line with the philosophy at KLA schools, most of which apply the Reggio Emilia approach.

“The environment is like a second teacher,” KLA director Erica Koegel said. “It’s very hands-on and sensory is huge. If it doesn’t look inviting, kids aren’t going to want to explore.”

Oswego resident Senehiel Anand Subbanan said he noticed a change in his 3-year-old daughter’s personality right away after enrolling her in the school. Subbanan’s daughter has been going to KLA for about three weeks.

“I noticed a difference more from a communication point of view,” Subbanan said. “She learned to speak in longer sentences in a very short span of time and she is also into artwork now. There are a lot of opportunities that she didn’t have before.”

Subbanan said his daughter previously was enrolled in a home day care facility, but since going to KLA she has learned better social skills with other children and is becoming more independent.

Plainfield resident Elizabeth Lopez noticed similar changes in her 4-year-old daughter. Like Subbanan, Lopez had her daughter in a home day care before finding out about KLA schools through a mailing.

“I think she just seems a lot happier and more accepted where she is at,” said Lopez, who is raising her daughter in a bilingual household. “Where she was before, there were too many kids and she didn’t get that one-on-one attention. She wasn’t very challenged.”

What the teachers are like

Koegel said parents have asked her whether or not their children will be ready for a traditional school once they leave KLA, considering how flexible and free the Reggio type of education can be for a child.

To make sure parents are well informed of what is going on in the classroom, Rajkumar created an online portal where parents can see pictures of what the child is doing in school each day and read a summary of their activities.

“The learning is interactive and is based on their interests,” Koegel said. “The teachers do a lot of work (with students) one-on-one. The teachers do lesson plans every week, and I meet with the teachers and we work together in a group.”

Teachers at Reggio-based schools are held to the same standards as teachers in traditional schools.

Koegel said prospective teachers at KLA need to have either a bachelor’s or associate’s degree with a certain number of hours devoted to early childhood education.

“They have to be familiar with the Illinois early learning standards and make sure the children are learning based on those standards,” Koegel said. “We would like them to have experience working with those age groups.

Lopez, for one, is not worried about how her daughter will adapt to a more traditional school after her time at KLA is over.

“I think she is progressing well,” Lopez said. “Even the teacher said she is pretty advanced. I also work with her and communicate a lot with her teacher and the staff.”

The school is open from 6:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Classes are offered for preschool age children though age 12. There also is a nursery, where infants as young as six weeks can stay in the school’s day care.

Koegel said another factor that sets KLA apart is the school is more upscale than some of the other private preschools and day care centers in that the school has catered meals and an art studio. Meals served at KLA are catered from Organic Life, a catering company with three locations: Northfield, Wheeling and Chicago.

Koegel said tuition for the school varies from $300 to $1,300 per month, depending on the child’s age and class schedule. Koegel said there is no wait list to enroll. The school’s capacity enrollment is 185.

“The room that will get to be busy is the infant room,” Koegel said. “We only have 12 (infant) spots and that’s it. But in our preschool room, we have room to grow and we have empty slots.”

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