The area's newest enrichment school, Safari Kid Pleasanton, is a longtime dream of fourth generation educator Lakshmi Nachi.
"I've always wanted to open a school," Lakshmi recalled. "My family owns schools back in India. My father was the youngest professor in the Guindy Engineering College (in Chennai, India). My grandmother was the founder of a (K-12) school that still stands today. Her great-grandfather started a university called Annamalai University."
Lakshmi was born in Chennai, India, where she graduated from Ethiraj College in 1994 with a degree in economics and marketing; the same year she and her husband, Nachi Periakaruppan, married and moved to the Bay Area.
It was while volunteering at her son's elementary school that Lakshmi was motivated to pursue her dream of being an educator. She went back to college, completing her certificate in early childhood education at Ohlone College in Fremont.
The family was living in Union City when Lakshmi enrolled her daughter in the Bay Area's first Safari Kid school in Newark. Lakshmi was familiar with the school because of a longtime friendship with the founder, Shy Mudakavi.
The first Safari Kid opened seven years ago in Newark and ultimately grew into an enrichment program that offers homework help, language classes and performing arts. The first franchise opened four years ago, sparking Lakshmi's interest in opening her own franchise.
Lakshmi started working on her own franchise shortly after the family moved to San Ramon three years ago.
Safari Kid Pleasanton ended up in Hacienda because of its central location and availability of a large 12,000-square-foot facility. The school opened it doors July 1, 2013, and now serves 68 students and is growing.
"It is an extended care with enrichment program," Lakshmi said. "We take care of the children's daily homework. We challenge them and engage them. They all have to read every day. They have snacks and free choice. They can choose to read in our library or play, from board games and Lego to pingpong. When the parent comes to pick up the child, the homework is done and the child has been challenged on the academic side.
"It's so important to keep the mind challenged. It's not enough to just keep it engaged."
Safari Kid Pleasanton stands out among enrichment schools because it offers performing arts in addition to academics. The Pleasanton site offers Indian dancing (north and south), drawing, painting, karate and LEGO robotics. The school also offers two Indian languages and Spanish.
"I have a whole lot of children learning Spanish, and we dive into learning about their culture," Lakshmi said. "The same thing goes with the Indian languages. The children show off their talent at twice-a-year concerts. Our first winter concert in December was a huge success."
Basically, Safari Kid Pleasanton is a one-stop shop for extended education.
"They can leave the child under one roof to get academics and performing arts and get their homework done," Lakshmi said. "I've always believed that children are sponges at a young age. They need to have a good balance of both academics and performing arts. It shouldn't be one more than the other because that burns them out."
Safari Kid Pleasanton is open 8:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. for students in transitional kindergarten through fifth grade.
The school offers additional coaching as needed, such as times during the school year when students take state tests or are facing gifted/talented (GATE) testing.
It is important to Lakshmi that her school be a safe environment for the children. All of her teachers are college educated, properly certified and have security clearances.
"The key thing is that it needs to be a safe place so that parents have peace of mind," she said. "You have to look at it from a parent's point of view as well. The money that the parents invest, is it well worth spending? I keep up my promises at my end. It's a truly happy learning experience. That is what I want to give them all."
"This is one job where you can never say you know everything," she said. "You're always learning something new. The children make my life so colorful. They make me think more. They remind me that it's OK to relax here and there. I've played pingpong with the children and played puzzles with the kinders."
"I'm thrilled with it," Lakshmi said of her dream to open a school. "All the hard work has paid off. To build on my dream and see the school grow and be with young children every day, oh, that's the best reward ever. I love being with young children. I've become a child myself. The diversity makes it colorful."
Learn more about Safari Kid Pleasanton by visiting the school at 5627 Gibralter Drive, calling 925-264-9679 or visiting at safarikidusa.com .
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