Ten years ago, Diana Darmawaskita opened Inspire Kids Montessori in Ahwatukee with four children and a passion to inspire children to reach their full potential and develop a lifelong love of learning.
Starting with only four students, the school only offered half-day programs.
But it didn’t take long before enrollment swelled to 120 students and the school expanded to full-day programs.
The enrollment created a need for a larger space so Darmawaskita moved to her current Chandler Boulevard location, and over time modified the building, creating bright, clean classrooms designed for collaborative learning, adding enhanced security systems and building nature-themed playgrounds for students of different age groups on 15,000 square feet of outdoor space.
Now, Darmawaskita has her eyes on a different kind of expansion.
While still running the Ahwatukee school, she hopes to open a second, larger campus in south Chandler at 3111 E. Queen Creek Road.
“We are very excited about this new chapter in our school’s history,” she said.
It’s just not physical space that has changed in that time.
“Our curriculum has also evolved through the years,” Darmawaskita said. “To our individualized academic curriculum for ages 13 months through 6 years – which features a strong emphasis in reading and writing – we’ve added an introduction to STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) principles and project-based learning, music and movement classes, the study of fine art, social studies, lessons in manners and other activities to engage students.”
They’ve even added “Story Yoga.”
“It’s all about giving children a balanced education and our teachers amaze us with their creativity,” she said, noting toddlers learn about the effects of water pollution and have studied Michelangelo by learning how to draw with markers upside down.
“Our kindergarten students are introduced to public speaking by presenting their end of year STEM projects to their parents and other students,” she added.
With programs geared to meet the unique needs of each child, students also learn to treat other children and adults with grace and courtesy and they are taught how to cook and clean up after themselves.”
Gardens offer students a chance to
explore and learn to tend plants as part of the Montessori principle of practical life skills.
With a National Early Childhood Program Accreditation, Inspire Kids also involves parents in all aspects of its programming -- and its Halloween parade in the Trader Joe’s strip mall, kindergarten graduation and winter performance give students a chance to show their mothers and fathers some of the things they have learned in school.
Although Darmawaskita got her bachelor’s degree in civil engineering and an MBA in operations management and supervision, she said she discovered she had a passion for working with children.
She had her share of challenges implementing that passion, recalling how she founded the school during the Great Recession and had to overcome a lack of brand recognition and an original campus site that had little street visibility, making it difficult to some parents to find the school.
Overcoming those challenges also brought some surprises.
“I was originally planning on providing only half-day programs,” she recalled. “However, soon it became clear that there was way more demand for all-day programs…. We were surprised and pleased with how quickly we were able to reach our full capacity.”
Looking at the next 10 years, Darmawaskita exudes the same kind of passion that propelled her founding of Inspire Kids Montessori.
She envisions eventually starting a third campus, a wider variety of educational programs with workshops “on the importance of early childhood education and parenting skills that will reflect Dr. Maria Montessori’s philosophy and will benefit children and parents in our community.”
“We are not just a Montessori school,” she stressed. “We are part of the community who cares and commits to providing the highest quality early education programs possible to our community. Our children deserve it and our country depends on it."