On a calm and attractive little street in Jersey City there’s a corner building with huge floor-to-ceiling windows, and on one sunny, sleepy Sunday, I peeked in through those windows and what I saw made my heart melt: Cubbies in yellow and blue, standing easels and rows and rows of Swedish books. It’s the new Scandinavian School in Jersey City.
When Maria Sharp, a former nanny, had a baby in the beginning of 2008 she knew that speaking Swedish to her child was of importance, but it was also only the beginning. Equally important to her, was to give her child a sense of what being Swedish really is about.
“To me good food, letting children be children and being outdoors as much as possible, regardless of weather, is part of a Scandinavian lifestyle,” she explains. “And my dream was to open a school, which incorporated all of that.”
A passion for education
Sharp came to the US as an au-pair 13 years ago, and quickly met the man who is now her husband and the father of Emilia, 2.5 years old. She is an English major who has also studied adolescent education. When Sharp and her husband started looking into daycare and preschool options for Emilia, they found nothing satisfactory. With a passion for education, Sweden and a wish that her daughter would have a similar upbringing to the one Sharp herself had had in Sweden, she set out to create something new.
“The main reason behind Scandinavian School, is that I want Emilia to have a great daycare and speak Swedish and I want to continue being with her. My husband and I have worked in shifts since the birth of Emilia, and in doing so haven’t had to rely on babysitters or nannies, which has been great. But I also want her to get the social bit in.”
Sharp thought of different alternatives, and came to the conclusion that by creating a school of her own, she’d tie together her background as a nanny and her work as a teacher at the Svenska skolan in Montclair, NJ, with her education and her new role as a mother. She was also inspired by a Youtube clip from the Scandinavian school in San Francisco that she saw and fell in love with.
What makes this school Scandinavian?
“Well, we will speak only Swedish and have only Swedish books,” explains Sharp. “Many, but not all, of our toys and material are also Swedish or Scandinavian.”
There are Pippi Longstocking dolls and Alfons Åberg and Bamse books, and a Fem myror är fler än fyra elefanter puzzle. The smaller children sit in Svan high chairs, there are some IKEA furniture, and the tablecloths have been donated by Marimekko.
The school’s philosophy is based on the Reggio Emilia approach, a child-centered approach which means the child guides the teacher to what interests her. For example if a child is interested in what a mailman does, the teacher will plan the day/week around occupations. If a child finds a feather in the nearby park, that might lead to a closer studying of birds, and so on. At the time of writing, 11 families have registered their children at the Scandinavian School in Jersey City.
“Most of them are Swedish, but there’s also a Norwegian and a Danish family and some Americans as well. The American families who have showed interest are families with ties to Scandinavia or Europe or have heard great things about Scandinavia, who don’t mind if their children learn a second language.”
"The best school it can possibly be for the children"
Sharp will teach along with two other Swedish women, one with a Masters in Social Work and a BA in psychology, and the other one a mom with many years of experience in corporate America. The school opens for drop-off at 8:00 and pick-up at 5:30. The daily schedule includes circle time, outdoor activities, quiet time and play and reading and also breakfast, lunch and an afternoon meal – all of which Sharp hopes will be ecological and home-made and “no airplane food”. There are no application fees.
“In lieu of an application fee I am asking for donations,” she says. “If you make a donation, it means you are participating in a different way. It’s easy to pay a sum of money and then the tuition. You leave your child in the morning and pick her or him up at night, but that doesn’t mean you’re really engaged in the school, or that you get to know the other parents. I think that if the families donate something, they invest more in the school. We all live very stressful lives, but I want us to have a little break from all of that, I want us to be able to do things together, if we all invest in what’s absolutely necessary, and then work towards the same goals then our school will become the best it can possibly be for our children.”
The school, which is located on 513 Manila Avenue, Suite A in Jersey City, is set to open on September 7. The weekly school tuition for full time (8-5:30) is $350. The school accepts children ages 10 months to 5 years and will take a maximum of 20.
Part time 4 days $300.
Part time 3 days $250.
Half days (8-11:30) $200.
Early drop-off and late pick-up can be scheduled for an additional cost of $10 per day.
The Scandinavian School is still in need of donations, find out how you can help by clicking the “Donations” tag on their website.
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