Today we’d like to introduce you to Sandhya Ray.
Sandhya, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
Wonder Years Montessori School was founded in 1990 by myself and my husband Ajay Ray.
I have a long background in teaching of over 39 years. After acquiring a Masters Degree in Language & Literature back in India, I used to teach college level. My husband and I moved to the United States in 1968 and while my kids were still young and in school, I studied early childhood education and administration at UCLA and acquired the necessary child development units and Montessori training to teach early childhood education. I found it more fulfilling to teach young children during their developmental years than teach at college level.
By 1990, I had over 12 years of teaching experience at various Montessori schools around the San Gabriel Valley and felt it was time I could open up my own school and be my own boss. I also felt it was a good time to focus on my career and be able to devote time to a business, as both of my children were off to college by the fall of 1991.
With the business acumen and help of my husband, Ajay Ray (a structural and civil engineer, who had his own private engineering business in Arcadia, Ray Associates, 1990 – 2014), Wonder Years Montessori School opened its doors in the fall of 1990.
Starting out with only 7 students, the school rapidly grew by word of mouth, and has been running at full capacity of 58 children for well over the past two decades.
From day one to present day, I’ve been the Director of the school, as well as the head teacher of the Kindergarten and Pre-K class. It hasn’t always been easy taking on so many roles, and with any business there have been hard times and good times. But Wonder Years has been such a huge part of my life and I am very proud of the school, the children, the parents and the staff that make it happen every day by my side. I am fortunate to have a very good staff of teachers and assistants and view them as my own (grown) kids.
The school has also been somewhat of a family business. While I have always run the day to day operations of the school, my husband has helped with the business aspect since its inception; and now my daughter (a lawyer) provides legal counsel and assists with the school’s administration; and every now and then I will call my son (an Internal Medicine and Infectious Disease Doctor in OC) with random medical questions on fever symptoms a student may have or other school-related medical questions!
To this day, I get visits from some of my old students from the 1990s who are now fully grown adults, now beginning their own families. It is heart-warming to see my students grow into responsible, kind, successful and professional adults, and it is a strong reminder and motivator of why I do what I do and the importance of each child having a strong yet nurturing early childhood experience and school setting. It is a privilege and a pleasure to see the development in our students.
People often ask me when I will retire, and I answer that the school and the children – they are a part of me and in my blood, so I honestly don’t know the answer to that question!
Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
It wasn’t a smooth road at all. I remember when we first opened the school in 1990, people would come and see only 7 children at the school and not want to come and it was a stressful time. But through word of mouth (this was before the time of social media), we started gaining a very good reputation in the area and after four-five months, our enrollment started to increase. We were initially licensed for 48 children, but by the next year we opened up another classroom and got licensed for 58 children. With time, we grew to full enrollment and have stayed that way for over two decades mostly through referrals and word of mouth.
As with any business, staffing has been a struggle at times. But what has been great is that many of my staff through the years have been the parents of former Wonder Years students.
These parents came to me after their kids had graduated, wanting to study childhood education, get their necessary units, and come work at the school. At this moment, I have three teachers whose kids all previously went through my school. Even two out of four of my own grandchildren attended nursery through kindergarten here at Wonder Years!
Alright – so let’s talk business. Tell us about Wonder Years Montessori School – what should we know?
We are a Montessori School for children ages 2-6. Our class levels include Nursery, Pre-School, Pre-Kindergarten and Kindergarten. Our program largely follows the Montessori Method of teaching, which is considered a child-centered approach that focuses on each child’s individual creativity and progress in a structured environment.
Our program philosophy encourages the child to initiate their own learning in an environment supported by his/her teachers and peers. Each classroom is filled with Montessori learning materials or “jobs” as the children call them, each which serves its own specific objective such as developing sensory and motor skill, increasing concentration span, caring for oneself, discovering problem solving technique and working with others. Our teachers guide the students by introducing new materials, activities and concepts as they gain greater levels of mastery at each stage. As the child progresses into Kindergarten, we continue to apply methods that allow for critical thinking, organized thought, independence and preparation for high academic achievement for years to come.
Judging from the feedback I receive from parents through the years as well as our online Yelp review, I believe we are well known for producing many Kindergarten graduates who can read, write and do math at much higher levels than their grade. We aspire to instill at the early age, a life-long passion for learning and a desire for high achievement.
Equally important, I believe we are known for developing well rounded children that not only have the smarts, but the social skills to confidently enter their elementary school years. Through our daily classroom activities, we actively aim to impart the importance of good manners, sharing, right vs. wrong, the proper way to conduct oneself with respect to self and others, and the virtue of good character. We want our kids to leave the school academically and socially prepared to go to 1st grade with confidence and excitement, and I am proud to say I believe we do a very good job of that.
What sets us apart is that we are and always have been a small, modest, unpretentious school with our focus being on the children and the solid foundation we aim to provide them during their early childhood years.
We hear of a lot of pre-schools these days that look beautiful and ultra-modern, have extravagant amenities but essentially provide a baby-sitting service without focusing on the critical years of early childhood and the necessary development. I think our school is the opposite of that.
Most of the kids at our school start at age 2, and leave at age 5/6. During the few years they are with us, they become our children as well and I personally feel invested in their well-being, their development and their academic and social achievement. I know that the lessons and foundation provided during these critical years will stay with them for years to come and I put a lot of importance on that more than other things. As a result, our fees are significantly lower than our counterparts, and that does set us apart.
So my school may not be showy or elaborate in its décor or marketing presentation, but as our parents know, our teachers provide what really counts — and that is a nurturing, loving environment that focuses on developing smart, confident, respectful and socially capable children who are prepared to face a bigger world as they move on from our school.
Any shoutouts? Who else deserves credit in this story – who has played a meaningful role?
Yes, my husband, Ajay Ray played a big role in helping me get the business started.
- Address: Wonder Years Montessori School
141 Las Tunas Drive, Arcadia, CA 91007
- Website: www.wonderyearsms.com
- Phone: 626.445.8834
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org (for enrollment inquiries)