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Meet Ben Newton – creative NYC dad and founder of Dumbo’s new daycare Vivvi

Dumbo’s newest childcare center, Vivvi, is opening this fall, 2022! Vivvi provides exceptional early education for children ages 0-5, with unrivaled flexibility and leading health and safety for today’s families. Their inquiry-based curriculum is facilitated by warm, experienced teachers who foster the joy of learning. The DUMBO BID sat down with one Vivvi’s founders, Ben Newton, to learn more about the center, its vision, and its plans for the future.

Hi Ben, it’s great to have the chance to chat! You co-founded Vivvi–how did you find yourself in the childcare industry? What made you want to start up your own center?

I’ve spent my career building and launching schools. I started my career with middle schoolers down in New Orleans, right after Hurricane Katrina, where I taught middle school math, science, and social studies. Then, I got my masters at Oxford International Education. In 2010, I moved to New York where I helped found a network of private schools called Avenues.

I switched to early childhood education, and founded Vivvi, for two reasons. One is that the research is really clear: 95% of brain development happens in early childhood education, and in order to make a difference in the lives of children and their families, you have to start as young as possible. A big part of that effort needs to be made when children are under the age of 5. Second, I noticed that, in the childcare ecosystem in New York, there wasn’t a lot of support for parents who had no choice but to return to work after a short amount of parental leave. I wanted to make sure that people had access to the highest quality of childcare possible, and to feel supported as they reentered their careers.

I also spent a year working out of Brooklyn/DUMBO coffee shops when I was working for a home-based child care company, so our DUMBO Campus is bringing us back full circle!

What type of enrichment is offered for children that sets them up for success?

Childcare is in crisis, so it’s really important to us that we are productive members to the ecosystem. There are many wonderful programs out there, and we are adding another one. The program we have designed is based on research and best practices. Our curriculum is called an “inquiry-based” approach. We believe that children’s learning should be based on their interests, and on their questions about the world around them. We train our teachers to own their classroom, and be responsive to the needs and interests of their children.

You will never walk into a Vivvi classroom and see a teacher reading curriculum from a binder. You won’t see a row of the typical cotton ball snowman project on the bulletin board. In our classrooms, students of all ages are pursuing their own interests, with student-initiated activities, student-initiated artwork. When children have control-over their artwork, their activities-it allows them to express what they feel, builds their confidence, and enhances their ability to make sense of the world around them. Each classroom is designed to set the children up for success in this way.

We believe that play is children’s learning. Children learn about the world through play. It is through play where that learning happens. We use centers based on Dramatic Play, Imagination Play, Cooking, Science, Art, Literacy and Fine/Gross Motor. Teachers listen to the interests of the children while they engage in different activities during the day and base education off of the children’s interests and inquiries.

Being a working parent is challenging. How do you support the parents/families in addition to the kids?

We made a decision very early on to open up a program that meets the needs of the families we cater to. We are open 60 hours a week, 250 days a year. There are days where a parent might have to get to work early or possibly stay late due to a meeting or other workplace commitment. We aren’t the type of center that charges $10 for every minute the parent is late to pick up their child. We remove all anxiety points around childcare. We are committed to supporting our working parents.

And how do you support your teachers, too?

Here at Vivvi, we set things up so that our educators can pursue their entire career here with us. So how do we get there? We make sure that we don’t just have enough teachers in the classroom, but that we also have enough administrators on site to support our teachers who are passionate about pursuing their craft. Responding to the learning needs of teachers is our priority. Every teacher at Vivvi has access to a stipend for higher education. We are also launching an online-based curriculum this fall to support teachers with training remotely.

How is tuition determined? 

I’m so happy you asked this question. This is what makes Vivvi so special, and why it’s so important that we are open all the time. When setting tuition rates, it is different for each age range. The highest prices are for infants and toddlers because they’re smaller class sizes, which is so incredibly valuable to families. In addition to that, we work to make child care accessible and affordable to their families whether it’s in home or on our campuses.

Vivvi is a one-stop organization. When you enroll your child at Vivvi, you no longer need to enroll them in summer camp or hire additional help for part of the day. We stay open all day to help alleviate our families with busy schedules. Many employers also subsidize tuition for the benefit of their employees so they are able to have access to Vivvi’s education.

How is cleanliness/daily upkeep monitored, as well as the health of the students/teachers monitored?

We know that learning can’t happen unless children are safe and healthy. We follow health and safety regulations as regulated by the department of health as well as best practice in general. While it has been an interesting few years with COVID and the pandemic, something we really pride ourselves on is that we were one of the only schools that kept our doors open with special permission for essential healthcare workers. We had the exemption to stay open and throughout the pandemic, and we have had the highest quality of health and safety care available. Since we have had to stay open all of the time, we take all of these policies and procedures incredibly seriously.

What brings you to Dumbo?

Our location in DUMBO is the perfect location! We saw there was a need for more childcare here. In addition, Vivvi is offered as a benefit to some employers in Dumbo, which is great. We also knew we could attract amazing, talented educators to the neighborhood as well. You can learn more about our DUMBO location here!

What is your favorite spot in DUMBO?

Our favorite spot in DUMBO is the Adams Street Library! We love books and all of our classrooms are flooded with them. We also love Powerhouse Arena and their amazing selection of books for kids of all ages. We did an organization retreat with our team at Time Out Market and it was amazing to have all of our team together there. It was a very heartfelt moment and I love that we were able to all meet together, in the neighborhood!

Learn more about Vivvi Dumbo here.

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