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A Schoolroom in the Workplace : Education: In an experimental program, a plumbing parts company is offering instruction for employees’ children.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

By high noon, Adam Tash has already put in a full morning’s work at G. T. Water Products, a plumbing parts factory in Ventura County.

He has molded his face out of clay and played a few rounds of a computer game before bellying up to the catering truck for some lunch. After noon, he swims.

If the activities sound a bit leisurely for a working stiff, it’s because 11-year-old Adam is one of 14 students in a school run exclusively for the children of G. T. Water Products’ 30 employees.

“It’s a pioneer experiment,” said Adam’s father, George Tash, who owns the company.

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He credits the idea to his 14-year-old daughter, Jennifer. Four years ago, she was complaining bitterly about her private school.

Tash’s own memories of his school days were bad, and he decided that he wouldn’t make his children repeat the experience. So Tash converted a room in the 23,000-square-foot building that houses his factory and hired former Montessori teacher Brian Kearsey to run the classroom.

Before it opened, Adam and Jennifer Tash “were miserable at private school,” their father said. “Now if I’m not here by 8 a.m., they’re pushing me out the door.”

Tash spends about $40,000 a year to keep the school going. The factory, which moved from Northridge to Moorpark four years ago, does about $3.5 million in annual sales, he said.

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Employees say the free education for their children is an attractive benefit. About half the company’s workers are mothers, including Tash’s wife, Debra, who helps run the business.

Largely because of the school, Working Mother magazine has listed G. T. Water Products as one of the 60 best employers in the country for the past four years.

Located in a busy factory district on Commerce Avenue, G. T. looks more like an industrial warehouse than an academic institution.

There are stacks of office paper, toilet plungers and other manufacturing equipment stocked outside Kearsey’s classroom. Nearby, the whine of heavy equipment can be heard above the children’s voices.

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The classroom itself contains no chalkboards. Maps of the world and a whale poster adorn the walls alongside crayon drawings by some of the children.

Kearsey’s non-traditional teaching style also bears little resemblance to public school instruction. There is no firm schedule, no homework and no lectures.

Students arrive at 8 a.m. with their parents, and they can spend the morning reading quietly in a corner or drawing and playing with clay. Older students learn computer skills on the two computers.

It is not unusual to find the class out on a field trip. The children go on nature hikes, whale watching or visit Tash’s ranch to swim in his pool.

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At lunchtime and breaks, the children may spend time with their parents. Parents frequently wander in to eat with the children.

Kearsey said he follows a strict weekly guide to make sure all academic areas are covered, including math, reading and spelling. Two other part-time teachers drop in weekly to offer lessons on art and science, Kearsey said.

The 5- to 12-year-old students are given tests each year to make sure their performance is on par with their grade level. But a spokesman for the state Department of Education said there are no strict specifications for private schools such as Tash’s. The only requirement is that regular attendance is taken and that a qualified teacher is present.

Kearsey acknowledges that his classroom sounds like all play and no work. “Life should be fun,” he said with a shrug.

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But the school has an obvious value, Kearsey said. “George ends up getting employees that are happy with the company and are willing to put out 110%,” he said, “and if Mom ends up working an hour more, she doesn’t have to worry about Joey down the hall.”

Rosa Velasquez, 26, and her husband both work at G. T. Water Products. Their daughter, Cynthia, 7, began at the school when it started, and a 4-year-old daughter will attend in December.

Velasquez likes the security of having her daughter near, as well as the fact that she’s saving money on child care. She also believes that Cynthia gets a better education.

But the school isn’t ideal for all children.

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Molly Ponce’s 11-year-old daughter, Sara, has decided to leave the company school and attend public school in Fillmore, where there are other girls her age. Ponce said she preferred having her daughter around work.

“It was really the first time in my life I didn’t feel guilty about coming to work,” she said.


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