Jessica Spada and Bonnie Smith have a lot in common.
They both have spent years in early-child education, they both grew up in New York City and they have known each other for more than a decade.
But the bond that really keeps them together is a shared passion for creating an environment in which kids get an early start on developing basic life skills and self-confidence.
So, it shouldn’t be a surprise that they became partners in a business that lets them do the thing they most love to do: raising Arizonans, if you will.
Spada and Smith this month are celebrating the first anniversary of their ownership of Magical Journey Learning Center in Ahwatukee, which has been around since 2012.
They both say that when they discovered the center in 2017, they knew they had found something they could work together in – doing what they feel the most passionate about.
“This has been a life-long dream of mine,” said Spada, who lives in Gilbert with her husband and two children, Daniel, 8, and Madelina, 4.
“After walking into Magical Journey, I just knew this school had something special to offer the community with various weekly enrichment providers such as art, Growth Mindset, PE, music, movement and Spanish classes combined with small class size, individualized attention, certified teachers in each classroom and an overall passion for educating young children,” Spada explained.
“It reminded me of all the reasons I went into early childhood education and the standard of education I’ve experienced in various schools throughout my career in NYC and North Carolina.”
Spada has a master’s in early childhood education – working with kids up to 2 years old.
She started her career 20 years ago as an associate teacher and worked her way up through preschool teacher, assistant director and finally director.
“I have been working with children my entire life, and seeing the world through a child’s eye and being able to share these monumental, life-changing experiences with them and their families is priceless,” she said.
“Creating an environment and curriculum that embraces and develops key life and self-help skills, builds confidence, a sense of community and giving back is essential to developing a well-rounded individual,” she added.
She and Smith for five years even worked together directing an early childhood school in New York, until Spada opted to direct another school.
Fate brought them together in Arizona a few years ago.
They decided to try and buy a school “that aligned with our mutual philosophy of early education,” Smith says on the center’s website.
She too was impressed when she discovered Magical journey.
“Their love of children and education was evident in their classrooms,” Smith says. “Their curriculum went beyond the basics, and included life-learning skills, such as ‘mindfulness’ and community projects.”
With a current enrollment of 60 children, Magical Learning Center has a curriculum for preschool, pre-K, kindergarten and first and second grade.
“We are now accepting 2-year-olds in our preschool room,” Spada said. “With low ratios and three teachers in that space, we can continue to give that individualized attention to each child. We re-designed our preschool and pre-kindergarten classrooms with new furniture, materials and defined learning centers such as art, math, science, library and dramatic play areas to name a few.
“We introduced computers classes so our kindergarten, first- and second-graders will be prepared for their next steps after MJLC. We also upgraded and enhanced our curriculum for after school and our summer camp program with engaging, hands-on activities that continue to motivate and inspire the children throughout the rest of their day and summer,” she added.
It also teaches the youngsters giving back to the community.
“Our Lend a Hand program teaches children to be kind, considerate and to give back to the community,” Spada said.
The kids have donated snacks to the Kyrene Resource Center, taken trips to Feed My Starving Children’s Mesa food-packing center and created other community projects.
“When you incorporate all of this into your daily curriculum, you create well-rounded individuals who become life-long learners and genuinely care about the world around them.
The school also has generated a second business, called Lunchkins, which offers harried parents a chance to order lunch for their kids even if they’re not enrolled in the school.
The menu not only offers daily fruit and vegetable side dishes, but also has gluten-free and vegetarian choices.
Spada said she is grateful for where she ended up in Arizona, calling Ahwatukee “an incredible community.”
“When you have teachers and parents that truly care about their children’s education and partnering up for the greater good,” she said, “it’s magical.”
Information: Magical Journey Learning Center, 1241 E. Chandler Blvd., Ahwatukee. 480-699-6552 or magicaljourneylc.org