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Primrose teaches ABCs, citizenship, more

Jacqueline Snyder's class gathers for a lesson. (Bulletin photo by Mathias Baden)1 / 3
Jacob Sebahar, left, and Eva Gunderson perk up as their class pays attention to a lesson at Primrose School in Woodbury. (Bulletin photo by Mathias Baden)2 / 3
Travis and Tonya Holt of Woodbury opened Primrose School on Oct. 22, 2007, when it became the fourth location of the private-school franchise in Minnesota. (Bulletin photo by Mathias Baden)3 / 3

In nearly a decade at CityWalk, Primrose School of Woodbury has grown from caring for 20 children to 205.

The first family to sign up became the best friends of the owners, who were new to Woodbury when they opened Oct. 22, 2007.

"We're like Grandma and Grandpa Moses, we've parented so many children," said Tonya Holt, smiling at her husband and co-owner Travis. "'They are like our children."

While the Holts can't count on their hands the number of children who have passed through the doors of the fully licensed daycare and accredited private preschool, parents' trust is not lost on the couple.

"The immense trust they have for us," Tonya said. "How do you walk around with your heart outside of your body? How do you give it to someone else? But our teachers do it, and they do a phenomenal job. We bleed Primrose."

Teachers take ownership of the preschool, which has offerings for infants, toddlers, early preschool, preschool, pre-kindergarten, kindergarten, after school and summer adventure club.

"We love it," Tonya said.

When Tonya met Travis, she wanted to be a camp counselor. When Travis glimpsed into his future, he foresaw himself as an accountant with a Corvette, but he also loved driving a school bus.

They knew about Primrose when they lived in Denver. But upon moving to Minnesota, where their extended family lives, no daycares they visited here gave them as warm a feeling as Primrose. Their standards were set admittedly high, the Holts said, and their search led them to open a franchise.

"We said, 'If we can't find the place we want, we'll bring the place we want here,'" Tonya said.

They began franchise interviews in February 2005, including extensive vetting by top executives at Primrose's Georgia headquarters.

They called other franchise owners.

"Not one of them said, 'Don't do it,'" Travis said.

So, Tonya added, "we moved our investments from Wall Street to Hudson Road."

The couple worked 24-7 to establish the business. Five years later, Primrose is thriving.

Primrose subscribes to a curriculum called Balance Learning, focused on purposeful play with nurturing guidance from teachers.

Themes run throughout each day, Holt said. "It's kind of like a long episode of Sesame Street."

Circle time, literary concepts, music immersion, science, math and engineering are key parts of the curriculum.

Balanced Learning is research based, with an emphasis on life skills and character development.

"The children learn not only about the ABCs but also about caring, giving, citizenship," Tonya said.

Children brought donations for a local food shelf, and it amounted to 1,500 pounds of food.

They've had citizenship and geography lessons at Feed My Starving Children.

They slept over at Relay For Life, a fund raiser for the American Cancer Society.

Kids have planted cucumbers and other vegetables, which contribute to the snacks for the whole school.

"We're all about making kids good kids," Travis said. "And happy kids make happy parents."

Thirty-five employees staff 11 classrooms and four age-appropriate playgrounds.

For Tonya, the objective is reaching desired learning outcomes and appropriate reading levels, and then hearing from parents whose kids have gone to area elementaries: "She just loves school."

The Holts have seen a lot in a decade. They have enrolled students from every continent in the world, from Woodbury to Denmark to China to France. Some students have grown into 6-foot-2 adults, attended prom and graduated from high school. They cannot go much of anywhere in Woodbury without running into somebody they know, a welcome experience because they realize the impact of teaching young people reaches into their personal lives in a positive way. They've seen families through hard times and celebrated their successes.

"We've been through births, we've been through deaths, we've been through cancer, we've been through it all," Tonya said.

The Holts schooled son Tanner and daughter Georgia at Primrose, and now in eighth and seventh grades respectively, they enjoy helping out and having enrollees look up to them.

Director of operations Katie Van Overmeiren and director of curriculum Erin Vanderwerf, longtime staff, are capable of telling enrollees' parents exactly what will happen in the classroom.

"All of their children have been born and raised at Primrose," Tonya said. "They've lived it."

Schedules are posted on the walls outside of the classrooms, and lesson plans are implemented.

"What's on the wall, happens down the hall," Travis said. "It's not just marketing. And oh, by the way, we're going to double check that it happens."

Primrose School of Woodbury is a training school for the franchise — one of 12 in the nation. The business has been named Washington County caregiver of the year twice, international franchisee of the year, and a City of Woodbury environmental honoree. Among Primrose schools in Minnesota, the Woodbury location has earned the highest parent loyalty rate in Minnesota.

Primrose's summer camp runs June through August, and the daycare and school is enrolling for the fall.

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