By B.C. Manion
It all began three decades ago, with a vacant lot and a perceived need.
Elaine Peverell, founder of Lutz Learning Center at 621 Sunset Lane, didn’t believe the public school system was equipped to give her daughter, Kimberly, the kind of learning environment she needed.
So, Peverell created an early education center — which includes a preschool and pre-kindergarten — to provide the kind of atmosphere where her daughter and other children could thrive.
Peverell’s daughter, who is now Kimberly Wilson, grew up to follow in her mother’s footsteps. Both women now oversee the learning center’s programs.
They decided to expand the center’s program last year to include an elementary program, geared for accelerated learning.
They were determined to ensure that Emberly, who is Kimberly’s daughter, would be nurtured and challenged through elementary school.
The center’s philosophy is that students who are challenged appropriately tend to perform very well, both academically and socially.
A 2,600-square-foot addition is now under construction to house the elementary program, which Peverell envisions will offer instruction for children in kindergarten through eighth grade.
If there is enough demand, she expects the school will outgrow its current location at some point. But she’s not pushing to create a mega-school.
“I don’t want to be a huge school,” Peverell said. “I want to be small enough that we don’t lose sight of that individual child and I want to be sure that we allow each child to reach that maximum potential.”
Peverell and Wilson both believe that a love of learning must be encouraged and developed very early in life.
“Pre-school is such an underestimated development stage,” Peverell said.
Unlike some schools, at Lutz Learning Center a child’s age doesn’t determine whether he or she is ready for kindergarten, or when they are allowed to advance to materials taught at higher grade levels.
“We place children developmentally,” Peverell said.
Private schools can also operate with less bureaucracy than public schools face, Peverell said.
For instance, if the school wants to take a field trip to show children what they are learning about, it’s simple. “All we have to do is get on the bus and go,” Peverell said.
Hands-on experiences are crucial to helping children understand what they’re learning, she said.
“To me, children learn by doing.”
Challenging children appropriately is also essential, she said.
Both Peverell and Wilson said children who are pushed academically in an accelerated learning environment become enthused about learning and don’t suffer the boredom that some children experience because the material is too easy.
Many children struggle in public schools because their needs are not being met, Peverell said.
The focus must be treating children as individuals and tailoring their education to help them reach their potential, she added.
“Can you change a child’s IQ? I absolutely believe that you can,” Peverell said.
Children who are ready to move ahead should not be held back because of their age, or merely because their peers are not keeping up, she said.
“No child left behind leaves behind the gifted child,” Peverell said.
It’s also important to realize that a child can be gifted in some subjects and less talented in others. The curriculum for that child should take those differences into account.
Learning isn’t always easy, but Peverell loves watching that ah-ha moment, when a child who has been struggling with a concept finally understands.
“There’s nothing more thrilling to me than to see a child ‘get it’,” she said.
“Children need to have a love for learning,” Peverell said. “You have to develop that in them.”
When that happens, Peverell and Wilson said, it stays with them for life.
Want to know more about Lutz Learning Center?
Come to the center’s Anniversary Hoedown
Where: Nye Park
When: 12:30 p.m., Sunday, Jan. 23
Who: Families, alumni and anyone who wants to learn more about the school.
Barbecue will be available.
For more information about the event or about the school, call (813) 949-3484 or go to the center’s website at www.lutzlearning.com