BRIDGEPORT, Conn. — When Patty Lewis was a teacher at Westport’s Greens Farms Academy, she often tested young applicants with an eye to increasing diversity and keeping standards high at the prestigious private school.
Sadly, many of the hopeful children from Bridgeport didn’t make the cut.
“They just didn’t have the skill set from the first 5 years,” said Lewis, a Fairfield resident. “I thought, wouldn’t it be great if someone opened a high-quality preschool for these kids? Then I thought, why don’t I do it?”
Welcome to the Adam J. Lewis Preschool, a 3-year-old labor of love Lewis opened in memory of her husband, who was killed in the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center.
Each day, the Lenox Avenue site opens its doors to about 16 youngsters, providing top-notch academics during the school year and a summer camp to keep skills fresh for the children who have become like family to Lewis and director Julie Mombello of Westport.
The pair, who met while teaching at Greens Farms, spent about 18 months renovating the former home, using all private funding to create an innovative curriculum they consider a hybrid of the tried-and-true Montessori model.
“It’s very child centered,” said Lewis, a mother of four herself. “We’re giving the kids ownership of the classroom.”
Because the pair didn’t want family finances to become a barrier, tuition is on a sliding scale.
“Some families pay just $10,” Lewis said.
While only in its first few years, Lewis and Mombello are proud to point out four former students have been accepted to the highly competitive Unquowa School in Fairfield.
Mombello said the Lewis school requires parents to get involved in their children’s education through monthly workshops on issues such as discipline, literacy and advocating for one’s children. The school recently held an early childhood education awareness walk in the city’s Black Rock neighborhood to promote how critical early skill building is to a child’s future.
“We’re always looking for ways to get out in the community,” Mombello said.
Lewis said she believes the school is a fitting tribute to her husband, who was 36 when he died, leaving behind children who were just seven, five, three and one.
Adam Lewis grew up in a one-room apartment with his dad in the Bronx. In junior high, he caught the eye of recruiters from Manhattan’s storied Dalton School, who gave him the academic leg-up that eventually led to his career at Keefe, Bruyette & Woods.
Lewis maintains a strong connection with the firm. John Duffy of KBW is a board member and a key contributor to plans to expand the school to a neighboring building, creating a more complex early learning center.
“My husband was a product of a lot of educational opportunity,” Lewis said. “We want to have a massive impact here.”
To learn more about the school, visit the adamjlewispreschool.org.
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