Tim and Angie Copp, owners and operators of Villa Montessori in Stone Ridge and Leesburg, recently sat down with the Times-Mirror virtually to talk about their business and how they are operating during the coronavirus pandemic.
Tell us a little about your background and how you got started in this business.
Tim: My career spans 20-plus years in the retail industry. Highlights include an executive for a large electronics retailer for many years and also president of a diamond retailer. I traveled extensively and quite frankly missed a lot when our girls were young. I was getting tired of planes, trains, and automobiles and being in different time zones every week. Angie encouraged me to go out on my own and open my own business. I told her OK but only if it was a collaborative effort. It took us awhile to figure out what type of business we could operate that played to both of our strengths and would accommodate some parameters we agreed would fit our family’s lifestyle. Most people scratch their heads when they hear of my jump from running retail businesses to running Montessori schools. But Angie and I are strong believers of the importance of early childhood education, so it didn’t seem that much of a leap for us. In fact, Angie was very involved in our girls’ preschool and served as president of the Parent Board for the years they attended. We thought it was a good mesh of what we believed in and what we knew we valued in education — a quality program where customer service and community are priorities. We opened two schools — one in Leesburg and one in Columbus, Ohio, in 2016. We acquired our Chantilly school in the summer of 2019 and rebranded it to Villa Montessori earlier this year. We launched our fourth school, a completely virtual school, this fall as we felt it was a niche we could serve especially in the current climate of COVID.
What do you feel a Montessori education does for early childhood development?
Angie: I really don’t know why you wouldn’t choose Montessori to be honest. I love Dr. Maria Montessori’s philosophy of “following the child.” Every child learns differently and at a different pace. Montessori is completely individualized to each child and celebrates each child’s uniqueness — it’s very respectful of a child’s ability to learn and recognizes that one size does not fit every child. Our Montessori certified teachers observe our children. By watching closely, they can modify lessons and materials that best suit the child’s interest and growth. In fact, our classrooms are designed for that very purpose. When you visit our schools, you will see shelves attractively filled with baskets, trays and boxes. Each material is designed to teach a specific concept; however, the teachers don’t select the concept learned — this is child led.
I also really love how we model grace and courtesy to our children. We treat the children as we wish to be treated. Our teachers use calm voices that show respect for our children’s feelings. Children are taught that materials also need to be treated with respect and care. When a child is finished using a material, they know it must be put back in its proper place. Children thrive best when there is a sense of order to their environment as well as routine. Montessori is one of the best ways of developing independence in children and the love of learning — two very important characteristics that will serve them well throughout their lives.
How did you pivot the education and business models for your school during the pandemic?
Tim: I’m not going to lie, the pandemic hit us hard. Everyone was in a mass panic and were pulling their children out of the programs out of fear. We ended up closing all three of our schools for two months whether it was from a government mandate or just because it didn’t make sense to continue operating with enrollment being so low. But, we are in the business of serving our families no matter what or even where. We were resolved to continue teaching our children.
It’s amazing how quickly we adapted to the crisis and created a comprehensive school-at-home program for our existing families. This was truly a collaborative effort across all three schools. Not only did we create daily lessons every week that parents could download and do with their children on their own time, but our teachers also held live Zoom sessions from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. Our parents were truly grateful as were our teachers to be able to continue connecting with their students.
When we were able to re-open our doors in June, not all our families were comfortable coming back despite our very rigorous COVID protocol of taking temperatures and enhanced sanitization with EPA-approved disinfectants, as well as our adherence to reduced capacity. We knew then that maybe we could pivot a little more and create our fourth school — a completely virtual school open to everyone. So, we did.
What are some of your success stories?
We have several students who were able to continue our Montessori program to complete their kindergarten year online while we were closed. We have heard from many of them that the at-home version of learning was very adaptable to the children since they were able to continue the individual lessons they were working on in class and had learned how to maintain their focus on the works they were engaged in. We also have students whose parents have reported that the transition to the public schools’ hybrid option of in school learning mixed with at-home learning was easier for their children since they were already used to doing both.
Lastly, we have also received a lot of good feedback about how we have been able to hold true to the Montessori method while providing the services online. One student in particular was doing blending sounds before leaving school and has come back reading complete sentences by keeping up with his work during the individual online lessons he received.