As a mother of two living in Harlem, Denise Adusei struggled to find adequate childcare in the area. But instead of settling for less or looking downtown, she decided to found her own preschool.
Adusei, Business ’10, is opening Peartree Preschool this fall on 112th Street near Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard. The school will operate on what Adusei describes as a progressive philosophy not found in too many other Harlem schools.
“I just started looking around to see what the options were, and there was such a scarcity,” she said. “I put them in one program, but it was just very disappointing.”
Peartree is play-based and child-centered, Adusei said, and will embrace environmentally friendly principles.
“We can’t cater to the whole child and ignore things like what the children are eating, and environmental factors,” Serene Stevens, Peartree’s education director, said. “It’s going to be new, but that’s what makes it exciting.”
While “it’s obvious that we care about the education,” there aren’t many programs in Harlem that emphasize the health of the kids, according to Adusei.
The curriculum, inspired by the Bank Street College of Education, is not created far in advance of class. Instead, teachers will observe the children and expand their knowledge based on the interests they show.
“They already have things that are interesting to them in mind, and we feel strongly that we need to meet them halfway,” Stevens said.
Even with a planned start still at least a few weeks away, applications are filing in as parents dissatisfied with other options are starting to enroll their children at Peartree.
“There were a few options, but there were options that weren’t necessarily the best quality care,” compared to schools further downtown, said Jonathan Taley, who has a three-year-old daughter enrolled at Peartree this fall. “There’s nothing like that over here in Harlem. The mission was very unique, and it was exactly what I wanted for my child.”
Adusei was part of the Entrepreneurial Greenhouse Program at the Columbia Business School, a selective class that provides opportunities for funding and extra support in preparing a business for investment.
The major kickstart for the program was winning $15,000 in funding from the City Foundation through the New York Public Library’s New York StartUP! Business Plan Competition.
Kristin McDonough, director of the NYPL Science, Industry, and Business Library, said Adusei’s 10-minute presentation stood out from the other finalists’ because it had “the whole package,” from feasibility to impact on the community to a “green” aspect.
“She really represents the spirit of the competition,” McDonough said. “She has taken a 20-page plan on paper, and she has executed just a year later.”
Peartree’s mission is new to Harlem, but investors said they trusted Adusei’s research and knowledge of the high demand in the area.
“We came into this knowing that if indeed she could get the center open, the demand was so high that she would be able to max out the capacity,” said Kesha Cash, director of investments at Jalia Ventures, a Manhattan-based firm which also invested in Peartree.
With her two kids ready to be among the first students at Peartree, Adusei said she’s happy to be an entrepreneur and a mom.
“We don’t have that luxury of separating our professional and personal lives. Sometimes we have to combine the two to stay sane,” Adusei said. “I get to be their mommy and to pick their teachers.”