2004: Imagining a Preschool for Highly Capable Children
Our founder, Ren Cedar Fuller, toured independent gifted schools in Seattle and the Eastside while looking at kindergarten for her child. Ren was thrilled to see young gifted children being nurtured and challenged, enrolled in programs that focused on their intellectual, social, emotional, and physical needs.
“I didn’t know there was such a thing as gifted preschool,
but I begandreaming about the preschool I wished had been available for my child.”
2005: Designing Bellevue Discovery
Ren recruited fellow teachers Kerry Ladd and Sinclair Sawhney, as well as her mother, “Grandma Jan” Ellichman, to brainstorm ideas for the preschool. She envisioned a group of families and teachers committed to helping young gifted children flourish in a loving community. She also hoped the preschool could be a resource on the Eastside for parents seeking information about educating their young gifted children.
Ren and the teaching team located a property for the preschool, the Pumpkin House, and worked to create a magical environment there, inside and out.
Ren founded Bellevue Discovery Preschool with this mission:
To challenge and nurture preschoolers who are bright, curious, and original thinkers,
using research-based methods for working with young gifted children in an enriched classroom environment
2007-2012: The Pumpkin House
In its first year Bellevue Discovery received more qualified applicants than we had openings for in our preschool program. We soon chose to focus on pre-kindergarteners because the Pumpkin House only had space for 12 children.
We added more teachers (Gwen Van Loos, Kristen Webb, Diana Lafornara, Erica Goodman, Kasia Fryczka, Annette Miller and Jerry Soules) and our program evolved to let teachers specialize in science, art, school skills, language, and math, building content and skills so that children could work on in-depth projects.
More than 80% of the Pumpkin house students moved on to gifted programs in public and independent schools.
Ren’s Parent Education program grew from her first talk in 2006 at the Bellevue Downtown Library to a series of talks about serving the needs of young highly capable children, including a presentation at the WAETAG state gifted conference in 2008.
We built a solid, well-respected program. Our families came from Bellevue, Bothell, Clyde Hill, Issaquah, Kirkland, Medina, Mercer Island, Newcastle, Redmond, Renton, Sammamish, Seattle, and Woodinville. With three or four applicants for each opening over the first five years, we knew we could double in size if we had room.
2011: Becoming a Non-Profit
Ren sent a letter to her 40 new and alumni families asking if they wanted to be a part of turning Bellevue Discovery Preschool into a non-profit organization, allowing us to serve more highly capable children in our community. More than 30 parents joined committees and took on leadership roles, and we filed for non-profit status in July 2011.
Founding Advisory Board
Mariana Alvarez-Tostado, Susan Audia, Joanna Black, Tabatha Bui, Tim Bui, Kyle Casperson, Ren Cedar Fuller, Ratna Chavali, Jan Ellichman, Kelly Finn, Amy Fletcher, Anna Goeke, Erica Goodman, Cydnie Horwat, Shawn Horwat, Iris Kim, Moonsoo Kim, Deina King, Hower Kwon, Kerry Ladd, Diana Lafornara, Janie Leonhardt, Sasha Moinzadeh, Sujatha Murugesan, Maria Oneto, Nirav Patel, Olivia Polius, Angelene Price, Troy Skinner, Laurie Thompson, Gwen Van Loos, Rahul Verma, Erin Vernon, Keith Vernon, Kristen Webb, Judy Whang, Christine Woskett
Amy Fletcher worked as our initial Board president, spearheading the process to get our non-profit approved. In the fall of 2011, we received approval for our 501(c)3 tax-exempt status.
During the summer of 2012 our Board of Trustees and Facility Task Force, chaired by Cydnie Horwat, leased a larger building near downtown Bellevue. This allowed us to expand our program and keep our warm, magical ambiance. Our new location featured two classrooms, allowing us to have a multi-year preschool program, as well as room for parent education activities.
Board leadership was turned over to Erin Vernon, our Founding Board President and charter preschool parent, who shepherded the non-profit through many challenges as it expanded program offerings in its first three years.
Our Founding Board Members included Hower Kwon, who served as Treasurer for the first three years, and Janie Leonhardt, who served as Secretary until 2017. Tabatha Bui moved from Board leadership to running the non-profit operations (finance, legal and administrative), becoming our Director of Operations. Cydnie Horwat was elected to the Board during the second year.
We began a Foundation Campaign to raise the funds needed to expand our programs. Within a few weeks, we raised the funds we needed to move forward—more than $60,000.
2012-2018: Downtown Bellevue
In the summer of 2012, we moved into our new home, leasing a building from Grace Lutheran Church in downtown Bellevue, where we are surrounded by four acres of trees, lawns, and a community pea patch.
Most of our teachers had worked at the Pumpkin House, but the first year in our new location was still a learning curve for the preschool staff. By the end of the first year in our new location, the teachers developed a schedule that allowed the children from both homerooms to blend into four Building Block Groups and three Project Groups for their learning activities. Our outstanding staff included: Melissa Pendleton, Michele Ulvila, Michelle Wylie, Molly Ingle, Savita Mukhedkar, and Shyamala Sankar Mathan.
Working with the preschool team, Ren:
developed a project-based curriculum that was highlighted in the NAGC early childhood newsletter
fulfilled the legal and financial requirements of running a non-profit organization
raised an average of $50,000 a year through our Show Your Love annual giving campaign
expanded our Parent Education program to include monthly seminars
piloted a parent-child activity class: Toddler Discovery
created a Friday Junior Kindergarten class for pre-kindergarteners
experimented with multi-age homerooms (ages 3, 4 and 5 in each room)
2016: Jill Jackson, a preschool parent, became Board President.
2017: Ren Cedar Fuller retired as Head of School and Jeff Snow became the new HOS for one year before resigning to move cross country. Vivian King joined our staff as our first Early Childhood Specialist.
2018-2019: Crossroads area of Bellevue
In the spring of 2018, Jeff Snow shared that the church was closing and Bellevue Discovery would need to find a new home. He also shared that he would resign at the end of the school year. Hyon O Kim, an alumni and current parent, became acting Board President for the spring. Vivek Gupta, an alumni parent, became Board President and Treasurer that summer. Ren returned as Head of School for a two-year period.
Ren, Vivek, and Board Vice President Sandra Tseng, an alumni and current parent, formed the Facility Task Force. They found Bellevue Discovery a new home on the campus of the Jewish Day School near Crossroads in Bellevue. The preschool moved over winter break to five stand-alone classrooms and a private fenced play yard, sharing the beautiful 8-acre campus with JDS – also an inquiry learning school.
With the ability to grow into the extra classrooms, Bellevue Discovery prepared to expand the preschool to two classes:
Grasshoppers: ages 2.5-3 Dragonflies: ages 4-5
Both classes are designed with Bellevue Discovery’s 1:4 teacher-child ratio, a focus on inquiry learning, weekly problem solving, and Building Blocks classes to help the children build their knowledge and skills.
Our new Admissions, Marketing and Development Director, Bhavya Srivastava (an alumni parent), ran the most successful annual giving campaign in Bellevue Discovery’s history and grew the preschool enrollment for the following school year.
Our office team included Wendy Manzanares, who kept the preschool thriving during a year of change, and Office Manager, Julie Anderson, who formed the IT Task Force to help our preschool update our systems and technology.
We hired a second Early Childhood Specialist, Arlene Winter, to begin work on our Grasshoppers program in the spring.
2019-2020: Doubling our Staff
With the expansion to two classes, the team spent the spring and summer finding teachers who were the right fit for our program, and these outstanding early childhood educators joined our team: Arienna Lisenby, Becca Reed, Imahni Sutcliffe, Poonam Chhajed, Rimi Nath, and Sonia Singhal.
Our Board of Trustees supported an increased professional development program and we hired education consultant Robin Russell of Teaching is Fire to work with our whole team. Robin said after spending time with our team:
“It was heartening to witness their insight into the
minds and hearts of intellectually gifted learners.
I have never seen a team that is so mission-focused
and so committed to supporting one another.”