Family First Schools (FFS) is a work in progress. Visualized by Angela L. Fubler, initially out of a desire to provide the community with workshops (commencing with Taking the Bully by the Horns, October 2001) that would enhance social and educational growth in the community and later the provision of individual in-class support for a student with learning disabilities in the private school system (BerCon Ltd.) to a small early intervention school setting for children with language delays. FFS has developed from a part-time one-person concept to an organization whose time has come. FFS is now a fully operational educational entity offering valuable services to the Bermuda community.
Why the Focus on Early Intervention and Language Development?
While developing and directing an Alternative School for Middle and Secondary students with moderate to severe behavioural disorders for the Bermuda Ministry of Education in 1998, the Founder discovered that a large percentage of the students referred to the programme for “disruptive behaviour” in the regular school setting were actually students who fell into five (5) distinct categories:
- Students who could not read
- Students who could not communicate effectively
- Intellectually talented students from disadvantaged home environments who could read and communicate but had never been assessed
- Students in a combination of all 3 of the above categories who lacked confidence and trust in adults and “school” to help them succeed.
- Majority of the students referred to the alternative programme were boys
In June 2000, following 2.5 years of leadership and observation, it was determined by the Founder that the local school system was attempting to address the needs of these students much too late in their development.
This was supported by local research that indicated the following:
- According to a 2005 study conducted in Bermuda by The Centre on Philanthropy, the top 3 issues facing Bermuda were: Housing, Drugs and Crime.
- At the time – the 2000 local Census indicated that 94% of prisoners were males and 38% of them between the ages of 25 and 34
- Of the 159 prisoners in Bermuda, 50% of them had a language-based learning difficulty
It stood to reason that had these individuals been assessed, diagnosed and intervention services offered at an earlier point in their development and their families properly educated and supported they would likely not be experiencing as much frustration and would possess a sense of “hope” and “confidence” about their own future.
On 13 September 2004 under the direction of Angela L. Fubler a certified Educational Consultant and long-time friend and colleague Mary Giordano, a Licensed Speech Language Pathologist, The Chatterbox Preschool opened its doors to 10 toddlers ranging between 2 and 4 years of age and their families. Angela and Mary were passionate about the significance of early language development and its connection with social skills development, increased levels of self-confidence and future academic success; that they wanted preschoolers to experience the joy of learning to communicate effectively together.
The preschool was established to give parents and professionals an occasion to interact freely with each other about child development, while maximizing the opportunity to observe and service the individual language development needs of the children. The preschool has a reputation for being fun, friendly and family-focused. In September 2005, the current Chatterbox Preschool staff expressed a vision to enhance the program offerings and introduce the preschool to the local community. In January 2006 that vision was realized and the preschool opened its doors to all children and expanded its program offerings.
The Chatterbox Preschool model is based on 20 years of research, in an effort to ensure that children and families receive the earliest possible intervention necessary to encourage language development and to prevent future learning difficulties. Using the curriculum developed by the University of Kansas at Lawrence, the preschool provides a comprehensive language-focused program which caters to all preschool aged children.
Staffed by a multidisciplinary team of professionals, parents are viewed as the “expert resource” for their children and are therefore equal partners in discussions with staff about how to meet their child’s unique needs. Parent participation is mandatory.
On 1 September 2010, a toddler centre was opened and aptly named The Chattertots Discovery Zone. By now there was a clear understanding by the Founder of the significant benefits of early intervention and early assessment of young children and the implications on later achievement levels and without question, the Toddler Centre would maintain the same Mission and Philosophy of The Chatterbox Preschool. Thirty-six children (36) between the ages of 2 and 5 were enrolled that year. Over the past 2 years, in order to effectively meet the needs of developing toddlers, management has decreased the capacity of the Toddler Centre to 25 students and began enrolling students as young as 18 months. In an effort to enhance its developmentally appropriate early learning offerings specifically for Toddlers, the school became a Certified Training Centre for The Original Baby Sign Program. All teachers are trained upon entry to use Baby Sign and spoken language with toddlers.
Mission and Principles of the Chattertots Discovery Zone and The Chatterbox Preschool
The Mission of our Early Learning centre is to provide a high quality, language rich preschool environment where children can play, socialize and communicate with each other and adults in a meaningful and productive manner that fosters a nurturing and safe learning environment and prepares young children and their families for success in education.
Chattertots and Chatterbox adhere to 7 Principles of language acquisition:
- To provide opportunity for language development in meaningful social context
- To facilitate language throughout the entire curriculum
- Ensure that the curriculum content is guided by themes
- Encourage verbal interaction
- All attempts at communication are responded to and valued
- Teaching opportunities arise during child-to-child interactions
- Parents are valuable partners in the program
Our Toddler and Preschooler focus is a specialized early intervention program that provides a comprehensive language-focused curriculum with an emphasis on speech, language, and literacy development. All of our schools are supported by a team of Master’s level certified or licensed professionals comprised of a Pediatric Physiotherapist, Speech-Language Pathologist, Vision Teacher, Educational Psychologist-Special Educator and an experienced Classroom Teacher. All members of this team have taught in our schools and are actively involved in school-based assessment, intervention and consultation on a daily, weekly and as needed basis.
What makes our early learning centres unique is its focus on early intervention and language development specifically for children with moderate to severe speech and language delays and English as a Second Language (ESL). Children with typical language development are also included in the group and serve as models for appropriate and normal language use.
The Chattertots and Chatterbox groups strive to provide a language focused curriculum with an emphasis on speech, language and literacy development. The schools provide an educational environment for language intervention that is appropriate for toddlers and preschool aged children, adheres to the principles of language acquisition and allows for intervention to occur within the classroom.
This environment promotes language development by focusing on child centred talk, talk about the here and now and provide supported familiar routines for each child. Parents and relevant professionals are a mandatory component of the support required for each child’s success.
Why a Boys School?
The relevance of the learning challenges and related issues facing the Bermuda prisoners and the community; the increasing number of referrals to The Chatterbox Preschool for boys with language delays; knowledge of neuroscience and education and Angela’s previous experience with school-aged students – mostly boys who presented with language or literacy delays was an initial foreshadow into the need for some attention to boys learning. Since 1993 there had not been an all-boys accredited private school on the island.
In 2003 it was her unexpected and personal experience with a boy – her son – who was sociable, bright, articulate, and entrepreneurial, enjoyed books but not so much the “reading” – and at a very young age could formulate questions that would cause Plato to pause that led to the actual “practice” of a potential boy’s school model. During a meeting with the Department Head, a classroom teacher noted that Angela’s son “asked too many questions”. Stunned but resilient (and now most grateful) this led the Founder to a deeper investigation into boy’s learning styles and an enriched homeschool learning environment was created for her son. He thrived and is now a double major in College studying Communications and Business Management – still asking questions!
The “right” Curriculum
Confident in the mission and purpose, passionate and with a transparent understanding of boy’s education and the benefits of individualized learning, the Founder realized that in order for this to endure as a school model – the curriculum had to be “right”. The right curriculum would emphasize brain-based learning, inquiry, student and teacher reflection, individual learning and effective self-assessment.
Having trained and facilitated Action Learning groups for in Senior Civil Servants in the Bermuda Government, Angela had observed the benefits and potential of a reflective approach. She researched and then began developing a boys Primary School model based on the principles of Action Science. It was during her research she stumbled upon a new company that had developed such a curriculum for young children. Too new at the time – the company (Fieldwork Education) was by-passed.
Two years later, in an effort to finally settle on a credible curriculum – and many questions later - The International Primary Curriculum was purchased and on Wednesday 13 September 2012 The Chatmore Preparatory School opened to 8 primary aged boys 5-10 years old. Since inception, 50 boys have enrolled in our programme.
Of particular note: in October 2013, our school invited a group of teachers from a prominent local private school to join our initial IPC training session. Their aim was to determine if the curriculum was a fit for their school. Recently they adopted the curriculum for their Primary and new Early Years departments. This is an enormous credit to the value of the IPC curriculum and their adoption of the curriculum brings local acknowledgment to FFS for the choice of curriculum offered to our students.