Wednesday, Oct 22, 2014
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Recycling pays off for The Learning Tree in Brooksville


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Gloria Harris, co-owner of The Learning Tree Inc., stumbled on the perfect enticement to help her students learn the importance, and rewards, of recycling.

While attending a childcare convention in Tampa, Harris discovered an interactive learning table with a price tag of $11,000. Clearly this was more than a work station in a traditional childcare classroom. This “table,” manufactured by Samsung, was actually a giant sized tablet with a microprocessor and the capacity to do all sorts of learning inspired activities for children and adults of all ages.

“I really wanted this table,” Harris said, whose facility is a nationally accredited Gold Seal Learning Center east of Brooksville. She discussed it with her husband and business partner, Shane Harris, who offered to pay the difference for the table if the school could win the $5,000 cash prize from a recycling contest they had entered.

It was quite a leap. But the Center set a goal and focused on winning the prize.

Recycling was an important part of the school’s fundraising initiatives, Harris said. The children began with typical items from their lunches, such as empty juice boxes or other food containers. As they caught on to the idea of reusing to preserve their environment, they became obsessed with bringing in items. They even placed buckets outside the building so items could be collected even when the center was closed.

But ink cartridges were the big item, Harris said, and where the school made the most money. They appealed to the community and signed up “business partners” who placed a label identifying The Learning Tree on their old cartridges before sending them for recycling.

All the efforts paid off. The Learning Tree beat more than 1,100 participants nationwide to win the contest and collected the $5,000 prize.

But the students didn’t stop there. Recycling had become an obsession and they continued to bring in items and expanded their business partner program with local businesses. The school managed to raise the money needed to purchase the table, which was delivered in late May.

The state-of-the-art tablet table, sold by Kaplan, is the only one in the State of Florida.

It is an interactive learning tool that engages children of all ages in advanced educational games and activities. With preloaded software, wifi connection, word processing and educational gaming ability, the tablet delivers from a very user-friendly platform.

And the entire school embraced it, each child excited to show off his or her favorite game or activity, all of which were developed to supplement learning.

The Learning Tree has been preparing young minds to enter kindergarten for 23 years. The center was created by Gloria and Shane Harris, who wanted to start a business that worked with children. Recognizing a need eastern Hernando County where few options existed, the couple bought the building on Windmere Road, tucked off the main drag of Cortez Blvd., and renovated it to appeal to children ages one to school-aged.

The childcare industry has changed in 23, Harris said. Back in the early 90s, childcare was a necessary option for working parents and centers provided organized baby-sitting options that didn’t necessarily focus on education.

Yet evidence proved that early learning creates better students as they enter the school years and childcare centers began focusing on structured educational formats to help foster learning in the youngest of children.

The Learning Tree expanded into a childcare and learning center, providing age-appropriate early learning for children. And they became an approved Volunteer Pre Kindergarten (VPK) program that is funded through the Early Learning Coalition.

The Learning Tree also earned national accreditation, taking advanced training and certified steps to provide the best options for young children. The national accreditation requires yearly recertification and expanded testing and paperwork.

Gloria Harris wanted to provide the best options for children in her community. And with 90 enrolled and the capacity for up to 120, The Learning Tree has become a viable partner for parents.

The table, still new enough to trigger a giddy smile from Gloria Harris, serves as a reminder to The Learning Tree that anything is achievable with a strong incentive and a unified commitment.

Email Hernando Today correspondent Kim Dame at damewrites@yahoo.com.

Biz at a Glance

Name: The Learning Tree Inc.

Address: 6368 Windmere Road; Brooksville, FL 34602

Phone: (352) 799-9277

Website: www.learningtreedaycare.net

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