New First School director stresses cooperative approach and fun-based literacy
Next month, a new chapter opens for My First School, a Floral Park preschool where Jeannine Votruba is taking over as the new director. A veteran educator with two decades of experience under her belt, the Garden City native is coming off a full-time Adelphi University position where she was a curriculum writer/lead teacher at the Institute for Parenting department. In her office at the United Methodist Church, (where My First School also resides), Votruba sits amid an office that, like the rest of the school, is in a state of flux in preparation for the upcoming fall semester. Although the mother of four is nursing a ruptured tendon that’s currently tightly wrapped in an Ace bandage, the longtime runner and current kick-boxing aficionado hasn’t let it dampen her anticipation or enthusiasm for the children who’ll be swarming throughout the halls and classrooms of the school.
“I cannot wait for this school year to begin. It is an honor to work for such an incredible school,” she said with a smile. “The teachers are so dedicated and professional, parents are involved and supportive and the children are all so unique and adorable. It’s a wonderful learning environment; I am so proud to be the director.”
The Roslyn Heights native has enjoyed a career that had her teaching at Walter Francis Bishop Elementary School in Jamaica, Queens and eventually holding positions in the Plainedge and Hewlett-Woodmere school districts. But regardless of the socio-economic environments she found herself conducting classes in, certain commonalities ran constant.
“One was not easier than the other. There is always a different challenge and in every setting, you get parents that are over-involved or under-involved. That’s all three across the board,” she recalled. “But the other thing is that people love their children and are going to fight for them no matter what it is. They want the best for their children. You’re in the position in the school to provide that. No matter who you are, where you live or what your income is, you want the best for your child. That’s passion and you need to respect that. Even though some may express that differently than others. The bottom line is still that you love your kid and want the best.”
Over time, these experiences helped shape Votruba’s educational philosophy. It is one that involves fun-based learning and an abundance of cooperative experiences where parents are active participants in their children’s education.
“For me it needs to be fun. They shouldn’t know that they’re learning all the time at this level. When they’re so young, it should be fun-based. Literacy has to play a big role as well and it shouldn’t be looked at like they’re dreading books. It should be about wonderful stories and getting them involved actively and finding different ways to present information that’s hands-on and fun,” she explained. “I have four children and they had four very different beginnings. And the beginning of one of my children had to do with me not loving the situation she was in. Five years later, I still think there are issues with school. I really think that if you start off right, it could affect everything. So I take that responsibility very seriously for that reason. This is their first introduction as to what a classroom should be and your teacher should be warm and loving. [Class] should be a secure and happy place. So I think the idea of playing, learning without necessarily knowing that, having literature be part of everything and everywhere for me is huge.”
My First School’s age range runs from infants in Mommy & Me and tots 18 to 24 months that start out in the Bumblebees program up through Kinderfun, which is designed to prepare children for a full-day, first-grade environment. It also serves as an enhanced program to the local school district. In between, parents can also enroll their children in Two Time! (kids and parents introduced to the classroom environment with an abbreviated schedule) and classes to meet the developmental needs of 3-year-old children and a 4-year-old pre-K program designed to help children become independent learners as they build their cognitive and socialization skills.
Body And Mind
Votruba’s love of learning and literature is reflected in her voracious appetite for reading. A fan of historical fiction, her favorite authors include Ayn Rand, Wally Lamb and Philippa Gregory. In addition to her membership in a book club that just finished up with the novel Gold, other favorites of the Herricks High School alum include The Mists of Avalon, Defending Jacob and One Thousand White Women: The Journals of May Dodd.
This intensity and passion carries over to Votruba’s downtime with husband Robert and children Sydney, Nina, R.J. and Leo. The family all have active lives with Votruba last year running in the New York City Marathon and doing the same with her spouse in Chicago back in 2002. Robert also completed the recent New York City Iron Man Triathlon. As for the children, they are enrolled in a bevy of activities that include track and field, theater, gymnastics and the four major sports including roller hockey.
“They’re all active,” Votruba pointed out. “We’re a big outdoor, get off the couch and start running family. No TV on the weekdays.”
Votruba was fortunate enough to have worked under a number of administrators whose guidance has served the veteran educator well regardless of whatever environment she was teaching in. Aside from her grandmother, who taught primary school in Park Slope, Brooklyn, the My First School director owes much to Claudette Tableman, the principal she taught under during a five-year stint at Hewlett.
“A lot of my styling came from her because she was approachable,” Votruba admitted. “If your door is not open, you’re not going to be able to help anyone. And if you don’t feel comfortable with yourself, you’re not going to get anywhere. She also said children have built-in b.s. detectors, so always be honest. Sincerity is something you can’t fake. I feel like I am who I am and I have a tremendous amount of passion for children and love for that. I think kids know that when they meet me. She always said you can’t fake that. You have to be true to who you are and true to what you do and always be honest. I think that even with teachers when I’m administrating and when I was evaluating, it was a fair and honest approach. It was a collaborative approach but honesty was always guiding it.”
My First School is still accepting enrollment in its PM pre-K classroom. Also, Mommy & Me classes start at 18 months old. For more information, please visit www.myfirstschoolfp.org.