This summer, The Palm Preschool Ave Maria will open in the Town Center, offering 2- through 4-year-olds a place to play, learn and socialize with other little ones their age. Staffed with two teachers per classroom and fully accredited by Florida’s Department of Children and Families, the center will closely resemble The Palm Preschool Marquesa in Naples, which has been operating since 2019.
The schools are a labor of love for owner Lanie Bonaquist Hill, who has a bachelor’s degree in psychology with a focus in youth and family from the University of Florida, as well as 12 years of experience in child-related fields.
“I have never had a job that didn’t include caring for children,” she says. “After graduating, I moved back to my hometown of Naples and worked as a preschool teacher, and I realized how much I loved that setting. I created a business plan, got a loan from the bank, and opened The Palm Preschool-Marquesa. It has been such a rewarding and fulfilling experience.”
Parents have flocked to the Naples school since its opening. “I think we’ve created a great school, and our enrollment reflects that,” Mrs. Hill says. “I knew we wanted to expand, and Ave Maria was in need of a child care facility, so we decided to take that on.”
Playing an integral role in the success of The Palm is Executive Director Natasha Norgart, who has an extensive child care background, as well as passion for the work she has done since she was 16.
“I took all the child care classes that were offered in high school,” Mrs. Norgart says. She earned an associate’s degree in child care from Santa Fe College in Gainesville. In Naples, she taught at the Temple Shalom preschool before helping Mrs. Hill open The Palm Preschool Marquesa.
As in the Naples location, The Palm Preschool Ave Maria will follow the Teaching Strategies Creative Curriculum, which employs a learning-through-play education model.
“The idea is to make it fun and exciting, so they’re learning through play,” Mrs. Norgart says. “For example, if the 3-year-olds are focusing on name writing, we teach them how to trace their names in kinetic sand or shaving cream.”
Children rotate to a new activity in a different area of the classroom every 15 minutes.
Having two teachers per classroom allows for this dynamic use of the space and plenty of one-on-one time with the kids. Lessons range from sensory activities with Play-Doh and magnetic building blocks that encourage kids to use their imagination to fun activities that introduce mathematics and literacy. Taking cues from the children’s actions and responses, instructors will explore teachable moments while always keeping it light and fun. Every week there is a theme, which might involve holidays like Valentine’s Day or St. Patrick’s Day, where they consider the meaning of love or good luck, or broader topics like weather, exploring the different types of cloud formations, for example.
Mrs. Hill believes preschool is not just for dual-working parents who need a nice place to take their children while they’re at their jobs.
“We strive for our schools to be a fun and educational environment for every child,” she says. “Our job is to facilitate social and emotional development. We are monitored by the state and use a highly regarded curriculum, so parents can be confident that their children are hitting all their age-appropriate milestones and then some. We pride ourselves on having the best staff who truly cares about the well-being of every one of our students.”
Celebrating an undersea theme, the interior walls of the school will be painted different shades of teal, and the teachers will customize the decor in their respective classrooms. Each grade level will be assigned its own maritime mascot, such as dolphins, sea turtles, and jellyfish. “We’ve gotten great feedback at our current location on how bright and welcoming each classroom is” Mrs. Norgart says.
The Palm requires all of its teachers to have 45 hours of training through the DCF and to be credentialed for their positions. They are all background-checked and finger-printed through the state of Florida.
At 5068 Annunciation Circle, Suite 109, The Palm Preschool-Ave Maria will be open from 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. weekdays. Fees range from $220 to $275 per week, depending on the age group. Morning and afternoon snacks are included, and a catered lunch will be available for an added cost.
Although student enrollment has not yet begun, Mrs. Hill invites Ave Maria parents to visit www.palmpreschool.com and fill out the inquiry form on the Contact Us page, noting interest in the Ave Maria location. Mrs. Norgart will follow up with these parents and get them on a waiting list.