Site Director Anne Leonardi “came in with a bang” when she started working at the Dugan Elementary School Champions site in Marlboro, New Jersey in September 2013. A former New York City schoolteacher who stayed highly involved with her local school district after becoming a stay-at-home mom, Anne’s passion for early childhood education makes her the perfect leader for the district’s largest Champions program and a dedicated advocate for students.
“As soon as I met her I immediately knew I needed her,” said Thea Pace, area manager. “This school is very academic heavy. Students are constantly studying and taking evaluations. We both view Champions as a place for kids to unwind, a place where they’re learning by having fun.”
Anne believes that when students are at Champions it’s their opportunity to just be kids, to enjoy themselves and be a community. She and her team created a comfortable atmosphere that allows children to do just that and they’re fully supported by the students – even the ones with behavior issues. Anne turned some of those children into program ambassadors and now they’re the ones who are always ready to help.
“I’ve never met someone so passionate about what we do,” said Thea. “She wants to be number one not for herself but for her children and families. Everyone needs 100 Ms. Annes in their life. She never stops.”
Anne can often be found deep in conversation – with her students, their parents, and their school teachers. Thea’s often surprised by how much Anne knows about her students, from their pet’s names to concepts they’re learning during the school day. Anne’s attention to this kind of detail keeps parents involved and interested in what’s going on at Champions. They’re so engaged that Anne’s ongoing career fair doesn’t lack for guest speakers (parents).
“Her career fairs have actually inspired children to aspire to careers they didn’t know about it,” Thea said, explaining that children began talking about perhaps working in advertising, a field they’d never heard of until a parent spoke about it during a career fair.
One thing’s for sure: Anne’s students have a bright future ahead of them, thanks in no small part to the strong before- and after-school community they have at their Champions program.