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Westport Women Help Underserved Children By Creating New Preschool

Patti Lewis and Julie Mombello created the Adam J. Lewis Pre-School in Bridgeport to provide more early childhood learning opportunities.
Patti Lewis and Julie Mombello created the Adam J. Lewis Pre-School in Bridgeport to provide more early childhood learning opportunities. Photo Credit: Hal Levy

WESTPORT, Conn. -- Two women who saw a need to expand preschool opportunities to underserved youngsters in Bridgeport brought their inspirational story to the Westport Sunrise Rotary Club.

When she was a teacher and administrator at Greens Farms Academy in Westport, Patti Lewis performed developmental assessments for 4-year-old kindergarten applicants. She learned quickly about the “disparity between children who received a high-quality preschool education and those who do not.”

Seeking to make a dent in this problem, and to create a tribute for her husband, Adam, who was a victim of the Sept. 11 terror attacks, Lewis founded the Adam J. Lewis Pre-School in Bridgeport.

She and Julie Mombello, a former teacher at Christ and Holy Trinity Preschool and GFA, acquired and rehabbed a home on the city's West Side and opened their school with 12 students, ages 2, 3 and 4, in December 2013.

AJLP, a nonprofit and privately funded community-based school, is a place where children gain “a solid mastery of basic skills, character skills, confidence and self-esteem.” Lewis described its approach as a “Montessori lean.”

Lewis and Mombello explained their achievements and plans, showing a video of a school with a large, bright, open classroom where the children spend the majority of their day “with all kinds of exciting things to play with.”

They teach days of the week, counting and a new letter every week.

The school emphasizes reading through its “Raising A Reader” program, designed to engage parents in reading to their children. Each child receives a red bag with four books every Wednesday and keeps it for weekend reading.

The program introduces families that don’t have books and rarely get to the library to reading to their children. Books are in English and Spanish to make the program more inclusive and help the children share a second language. Lewis described the program simply as “fabulous.”

Mombello called the school’s art area a place where “everybody is allowed to be creative all the time—and where every work is a masterpiece.”

There’s an outdoor playground, “an extension of the classroom with lots of different learning areas. The sandbox is one of the most popular areas. It’s fun, it’s a place for creativity and a place where they practice social skills” Lewis said.

But everyone’s favorite is the tricycle track. ‘It’s a hubbub of activity,” with the kids pedaling around a brick track.

Lewis thanked her husband's former firm, Keefe, Bruyette and Woods, without whose help “we wouldn’t have had this amazing playground.”

Tuition is $7,000: A few families pay full tuition. Others, after a means test, pay what they can afford, including some who pay $7.50 per week.

The Westport Sunrise Rotary meets from 7:30 to 9 a.m. Fridays at Bobby Q's, 42 Main St., Westport. For more information, visit its website .

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