MindBloom Preschool will not reopen in Austin

August 23, 2012
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Austin’s MindBloom Preschool of Chicago recently closed, and it’s unlikely the early childhood education program will reopen in the community, its director said.

Susan Banks, director of MindBloom, opened the preschool, 429 N. Leclaire Ave., in April 2011. She decided to suspend operations in May.

Banks’ vision for her at-home early childhood education program included the Socratic method, Latin classes and other strong skill-building curriculum along with active parent involvement.

But since the preschool’s opening, Banks faced numerous challenges keeping the business afloat.

“I noticed that people were telling me people weren’t ready for a program like MindBloom in Austin,” Banks said. “I didn’t get the response I was hoping for.”

Her program, priced at $250 per week, had the capacity to enroll about 12 children ages 2 to 5, yet it was difficult filling the open spots, she said.

Some families might have been interested in enrolling their children, but couldn’t because of timing, opportunity and other reasons.

Banks said she would have liked to accommodate those families, but she paid out of pocket for all of the school’s expenses.

MindBloom did not receive funding from the city, state or grants, Banks said.

There was some hesitation from the community when Banks – who was born in Austin and moved backed to the community after working eight years in Washington, D.C., as a lawyer – talked about creating the program.

The preschool included “very active and engaging curriculum,” she said.

“My program was going to make people step up to the plate and raise the bar,” she said, referring to other preschools and child care centers in the area.

Her licensing representative, who works with early childhood education facilities and day cares on the West Side, told her no one else in the community ran a program like hers, and it could be “intimidating” to some.

“The attitude toward education in my community and about success and business in my community was the demise of my program,” she said.

Banks said her achievements as a lawyer may have upset some community members. She drives a luxury car and owns her home, which is located next to the preschool.

People have vandalized her home and the preschool multiple times, she said. Copper pipes in her basement were stolen, and the electricity wires to her home were ruined, among other damages.

While MindBloom was open, it wasn’t uncommon for Banks to find dozens of beer bottles and broken flowerpots in the school’s front yard.

During the past year, Banks reached out to various groups in Austin, including the Westside Ministers Coalition, to help curb the vandalism at her properties.

The Rev. Lewis Flowers, chairman of the coalition, said the group helped spread the word about the program and end the harassment against Banks. The Westside Ministers Coalition also worked with the police to curtail littering and vandalism at her school.

“We’ve done all we can do,” Flowers said.

Although the Austin preschool is closed, Banks is not giving up on her vision.

She’s starting a similar MindBloom school in Washington, D.C., with a grant from the District of Columbia’s Tender Growth program, which helps assist day care owners and entrepreneurs in starting a business.

The Washington, D.C., MindBloom will be smaller than Austin’s with six slots. One part-time program will run in the morning and another in the evening. Banks plans to teach a foreign language, such as Mandarin or Spanish, and incorporate the Socratic and Suzuki teaching methodologies.

The preschool will also include “music and movement” curriculum. She’s already received a donated piano and help from a music teacher for the school.

Banks’ ultimate goal is to make MindBloom a national program.

One day, she plans to return to Chicago and give it another go, she said.

“Unfortunately, I won’t be returning to Austin,” she said. “I don’t believe the program will do well here.”

She said although her school didn’t work out, she hopes other educators and entrepreneurs in Austin won’t be deterred from opening businesses in the community.

“I wish anyone who wants to take that same journey the best of luck,” she said. “If it’s what you want to do, be creative how you do it and be careful, especially if you are coming out of pocket.”

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