Owner: Kym Pomares
Location: 3217 Monet Dr., Virginia Beach
Number of Employees: 48
Kym Pomares originally founded Courthouse Academy in 1992 exclusively as a pre-school with half days, a total enrollment of less than 25 children and staff of three or four members. Since then, Pomares has developed the program to include 207 students from pre-kindergarten to third grade with a staff of 48, relocated the school to a new and larger building and established a Spanish immersion curriculum. By the time the students are in kindergarten, they’re learning to read and write in both English and Spanish. The commitment to academic excellence has shown with its Spanish immersion program. The students, who are taught lessons in English and then reinforced with Spanish, on average, test, read and write at higher levels than their public school peers.
Always admiring the Spanish language, Pomares wanted to ensure her own two daughters could speak Spanish. “When I did send my children to pre-school, I realized that what I really wanted wasn’t out there,” she says, “so I decided to go out and create it.”
The Spanish immersion program was partly inspired by her daughters’ educations, as both lived and studied in an English immersion program in Madrid for several years. “When the older one came back, she said, ‘You’ve always wanted Spanish in the program; why don’t you think about establishing a Spanish immersion program?’ and it was like the light bulb lit up.”
Pomares says that learning a second language at such a young age comes easily at Courthouse Academy, as students who are educated for the first time in English don’t have to stop and think how to translate words into Spanish; it simply comes naturally. She ensures, “It’s no different for them to learn that the name of this thing is a door, or puerta.” The challenge itself, which Pomares admits has come with quite a deal of difficulty, is finding the right teachers for Courthouse Academy. While other schools will often have one teacher per class, the academy has two teachers per classroom, one to teach English and another for Spanish. “A lot of times at first the English teacher is reluctant because it’s so different from anything they’ve done before. But they all come to love it, and they learn a lot while they’re at it,” Pomares shares.
Beyond the immediate advantages of excelling with academics at a young age, research shows the long-term social benefits of being bilingual include communicating while traveling, greater job opportunities and the ability to complete tasks by using more parts of the brain. Additionally, Pomares shares that she is fascinated by studies showing that those inflicted with Alzheimer’s disease have been able to function at a higher level as a result of challenging oneself with additional languages (per Washington Post).
Developing the program has been a rewarding experience for Pomares. “I get goose bumps when I go in to the classroom and I see second graders writing in Spanish and then reading what they wrote,” she says. “It’s just a wonderful experience to see the kids develop and have such an active part in that.”
Future goals for Courthouse Academy are to expand its teachings to the fifth grade and to continue to be the premier Spanish immersion program in the area for young children.