Acts of Faith

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Kennesaw student defies odds to open Montessori school KENNESAW, Ga. (Nov. 19, 2015) —  …

Georgia (Nov 19, 2015)

Kennesaw student defies odds to open Montessori school

KENNESAW, Ga. (Nov. 19, 2015) —  The story of a Kennesaw State international student-turned-entrepreneur can be summed up in her name: Faith.

From the moment in April 2013 that Faith Wangunyu, a senior international affairs major, entered a Montessori classroom while on a tour with her leadership class, she envisioned herself running such a school, perhaps in her native Kenya.

“It was just a passing thought at first,” says Wangunyu, a former public relations professional who worked for the Mexican Embassy in Kenya and a logistics company in Dubai before coming to the U.S. on a visa in 2010. “But I knew that with God’s help, it was possible.”

In February 2015, she opened Princeton Preparatory School, an independent, Christian Montessori school in Kennesaw.  

The journey from vision to manifestation began immediately, even though Wangunyu had no experience or background in education and faced the complexities of funding, being certified, obtaining a license and finding a suitable facility.

But she did have ties to the immigration services community as a volunteer and intern with the Lutheran Refugee and Immigration Services of Georgia and the International Rescue Committee. She learned about a microentrepreneurship program for immigrant women and enrolled, only to realize the program was geared primarily for women seeking to establish home-based child care.  Though she didn’t complete the program, she said she obtained the information necessary to get started.

During 2014, Wangunyu found herself in a whirlwind of activity. While attending classes, volunteering and working two jobs, she toured day care sites and schools, attended a state-sponsored training course for child care directors in Tifton, Ga., initiated paper work for a license, and started shopping for furniture.

“There were days I worked almost 24 hours,” she said. “I didn’t buy clothes, go on dates or have any social life. I bought furniture at Ikea, on Craigslist and at other sales, sometimes spending my whole paycheck.  I stored it at the homes of friends and family members for a year without knowing when I would start my business. By January, I had enough furniture for three classrooms.  It was a tremendous sacrifice, but that’s what entrepreneurs have to do.”

In August, Wangunyu located a suitable location for her school. The tip came from a woman she befriended while in directors’ training. The woman offered Wangunyu a lease on the first floor of a two-story building where she also operated a school. Eager to get started, Wangunyu signed a lease before obtaining the license to operate.  But the building required major renovations, including new plumbing, electrical and flooring to pass the inspection required for a license.  She took on additional part-time jobs to pay for the renovations and stopped by every day to help with the work of redoing the floors, painting and other repairs. She moved in all her furniture.

Things took a bizarre turn, however ─a complex scenario involving the right of the woman to lease the space to her and the acquisition of the building by new owners. “There was a mix-up with the lease and I had to vacate the premises, but they allowed me to leave my stuff there for a time,” she explained.  “I was disappointed and there were nights I cried, but I knew it was all going to work out for the better.”

Wangunyu said she did what she always does: She prayed and continued to move forward.  She had hoped to open in fall 2014 and took a break from school during fall 2014 and spring 2015 to devote herself full time to working and getting the school up and running.

Attributing it to divine intervention, Wangunyu said the new owners took control of the building, terminating the lease of the woman who initially occupied the second floor and leased Wangunyu the ground-floor space.  Instead, the owners offered her the entire building with three months free rent.  In the process, she got access to a space that was already licensed as a school. She advertised and hired a part-time teacher for the preschoolers in her half-day program and a full-time teacher certified in early childhood education and Montessori for the full-day elementary students.

Princeton Preparatory School opened for business in February 2015 and now serves children in six classrooms.  Wangunyu returned to school in fall 2015 and continues to work two jobs to support the school.

On a typical day, she goes to her school in the early morning to clean up and get everything ready for the school day. Then she heads off to her job as a personal care giver to an elderly client from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. She attends classes from 6:30 to 9:15 p.m., then heads to her night job at an assisted living facility in Marietta, a job that allows her time to study and catch up on computer and paperwork.  

“That’s my normal,” she said.  “Once I had an off day, and didn’t know what to do with myself.”

Wangunyu is already looking forward to her next moves.  She plans to enroll in Feland Meadows’ Montessori education training program at Kennesaw State this summer. After she graduates next spring, she plans to enroll for a master’s degree in education.  And she said she has her eye on a 22,000-square-foot former charter school building that is adjacent to the building she currently leases and in the shadow of Kennesaw State’s Kennesaw campus.   

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— Sabbaye McGriff

Photos by Robert Anthony Stalcup

 


 

A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers more than 150 undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its approximately 41,000 students. With 11 colleges on two metro Atlanta campuses, Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia and the third-largest university in the state. The university’s vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the region and from 92 countries across the globe. Kennesaw State is a Carnegie-designated doctoral research institution (R2), placing it among an elite group of only 6 percent of U.S. colleges and universities with an R1 or R2 status, and one of the 50 largest public institutions in the country. For more information, visit kennesaw.edu

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