Wanikka Vance spent a part of her childhood in Chicago Heights learning to add and subtract at District 170's Jefferson School.
As an adult, Vance returned to Jefferson, and for the past eight years has taught young people as impressionable as she once was. But serving as a kindergarten teacher in a financially strained public school district isn’t enough for Vance, who sees an inherent problem with the system.
“I see when kids come in, they don’t have the necessary skills,” Vance said. “A lot of times in the public school system kids have a good teacher, then they have a bad teacher, so they need to have a strong foundation before they even start.”
That’s why Vance started Foundations 4 AdVANCEment, a private kindergarten academy in Crete with classes beginning this fall. Affordability factored into the location choice, and Vance said this academy is aimed squarely at educating children from low- to medium-income families in Chicago Heights.
Vance has plans to teach the students in this program things people often don’t learn until well past the first formal school year.
“We’re hoping to teach them about entrepreneurship starting at age 5,” she explained. “Even in my (Jefferson) kindergarten class, I make sure kids know about college, what college they’re going to and what they want to be when they grow up.”
The academy, which opened as an after-school program in December 2011, will take Vance's approach a step further for the kindergarten program, adding monetary value to the diligent efforts she expects from her students.
“We want to have it set up to where every child who enters the academy has a bank account set up,” Vance said. “With that bank account, they’re rewarded for making high honor roll and honor roll. They actually get money that goes into that account, and that money will follow them until they graduate from high school. Every year they would just come back to the school, show their report cards and money will go into that account.”
When a student from the program graduates from high school, Vance said the academy will cut him or her a check. The lengthy program is meant to constantly remind students that their hard work will be rewarded in a tangible way.
The young teacher said she already sees changes in the way her kindergarteners think as she explains the importance of being business-minded.
“I have a 6-year-old who wants to be a dentist, and I told him that’s fine, but now he understands, ‘I’m not only going to be a dentist, I’m going to own my own dental office,’” Vance recalled.
Registration has already started for the first school year at Foundations 4 AdVANCEment, and Vance said she is trying to use every avenue possible to spread the word about the program.
Vance started the school with her own money, and wants to keep tuition costs as low as she can for parents.
"I'm hoping to keep the tuition no higher than $200 per month, since I want to work with kids from lower income families," Vance said.
In order to build the school's resources while keeping tuition down, Vance is accepting any donations of educational materials and technology from the community.
After leaving the Chicago Heights school system as a child and returning as an adult, Vance said she feels she has come full circle. But this time she has an arsenal of ideas aimed at preparing a new generation of kids to take over the world.
"They may be five or six, but they need to think, 'I might be able to go to school to be doctor, but I can also own my own business,'" Vance said. "I believe if you have high expectations and standards for kids, they step up to the plate."
To learn more about Foundations 4 AdVANCEment, contact Wanikka Vance at Wanikkaf4a@ymail.com.