At Moorpark Firm, Kids Learn While Parents Work : Workplace: G.T. Water Products has operated a school for employees’ children since 1987. About a dozen youngsters are enrolled now.
Busy making sales calls most of the morning, Anne Zibalese--a sometimes harried working mom--realizes amid all her office work that it’s been a while since she has seen her son, David, 13, and her daughter, Ashley, 11.
Not to worry. She just gets up from her cluttered desk, walks to the back of the sales room and opens the door. She peaks in and sees they are fine. They’re busy themselves, along with other students in their classroom doing schoolwork.
“They’re really closer than you think,” Zibalese said. “I can hear them when they have their karate class.”
Nestled behind her G.T. Water Products sales office and next to the company’s assembly line is a school like almost none other in the nation--a few rooms in a company in Moorpark’s warehouse district.
There, about a dozen students, ages 4 to 16, learn together in the same building where their parents work.
The private, accredited school opened in 1987 at G.T., a company that makes and markets such products as heavy-duty plungers and industrial plumbing devices. The company is, according to Working Mother magazine, the only business in America operating a K-12 school for the employees’ children.
“Having a school in a corporate setting allows students and their parents to check in with each other throughout the day,” said Stephen Brown, 16, who studied at the school for about four years. For the past two years, he has taken classes at Moorpark College and in the spring plans to attend UCLA’s School of Engineering as a college junior.
“Parents are supposed to raise their kids with their ethics and beliefs,” he said. “In today’s world--with both parents working--that’s not really possible. Parents end up turning all that over to the schools, but (at G.T.) the parents are part of every day of learning.”
The values that the children pick up are not just from their parents. The students cannot help but learn lessons from the workaday world.
Every day the students are exposed to the business that keeps the small but successful company afloat: They have to walk by the assembly line to get to the lunch truck parked at noon behind the factory; they know that lucrative business deals might be spoiled if they dash into a room without knocking, and they have learned how to behave around clients.
Along with their reading, writing and arithmetic, a few have picked up a little business acumen.
Anne Zibalese’s son, David, can easily rattle off the company’s product line. “There’s the Royal Flusher, the Master Plunger, the Mini-Master 3 and the Drain King,” he said, naming but a few of the flashier products.
David and Adam Tash, who is the son of company president George Tash--have taken to selling the products at swap meets and trade shows. They have their own sales pitch, and can explain the inner workings of the devices.
“The Drain King expands and creates an air lock,” Adam, 15, said, while taking a break from class. “Then it clears the clog through a pulse that is created by hydraulics. But I can’t really go into that, it’s a trade secret.”
It was Adam who accompanied his father on a trip to Washington this fall to attend a dinner hosted by Labor Secretary Robert B. Reich honoring the top 100 companies for working women in America. It was the seventh consecutive year that G.T. was named to the list, compiled by Working Mother magazine of New York.
Adam is the first to admit the school was not intended to make national news. “My dad mainly started it for my sister,” he said.
In 1987, Adam’s sister, Jennifer, now 18, was bored by her private school and dreaded getting up for class every day, as the story goes. Tash, remembering his own dread of school, was looking for a unique approach to inspire learning and keep his children close by.
He started the school, and the experiment worked. The school became something more. It was another in a long line of benefits that helped retain employees.
Just before lunch one day, receptionist Jennifer Tomlinson peeks in on Anthony, her 4-year-old son, who just started attending the Montessori-type school.
“One of the main reasons I chose this job was because of the benefits,” Tomlinson said, while looking over her son’s shoulder. “I wish we had a preschool too. It can be so hard leaving your children with someone else every day.”
It is a benefit that has transformed the company in ways subtle and profound. The students and employees are used to the attention focused on them.
Alongside the dozens of patents mounted on plaques hanging in the front lobby are the seven framed covers of Working Mother magazine. Children’s art dots the walls in offices throughout the company, and a few poems are posted next to the filing cabinets.
The company is different and so is the school.
All the students work together in a sort of one-room schoolhouse run by teacher Brian Kearsey. Kearsey takes a free-flowing, Montessori-inspired tact on education, letting the students develop at their own pace.
He does some scheduling of studies so that no academic areas are ignored, but generally the children decide what to learn and when. The afternoons are often reserved for special field trips to such places as the Getty Museum or nearby parks.
Although the students seem to excel in the self-paced, intimate learning environment, they know that they miss out on what students at larger schools take for granted. There is no homecoming, no junior and senior prom, and very few youths to socialize with.
Feeling he was missing out on a cornerstone of teen culture, Adam considered enrolling in a larger public or private school. “I almost left for a social life,” he said.
But since that period of doubt, the school has started group activities with another private school that has students Adam’s age.
To attend the school, children must be at least 4 1/2 years old and have parents who work at G.T. To accept children under 4, the school would have to go through a much more rigid licensing, and would likely have to hire additional teachers or a day-care provider.
As it now stands, the company spends about $50,000 a year to cover school supplies and teacher Brian Kearsey’s salary. Resa Brown, the school’s director, gives her time in exchange for free education for her three children.
It is money well spent by the company, say employees, even those who don’t have children.
Rhonda Dinivus, who works in the shipping department, said she likes to stop by the school on her breaks. The children all know her. On her birthday they brought her candy. She said the school improves the work atmosphere.
“And on my break I can come by if I need a hug,” she said. “It’s the best place I’ve ever worked.”