mom Peggy Lee

Westcoast Families - - Front Page - By Stephanie Mac­Don­ald | Photo by Dy­lan Doubt

it’s easy to see why Peggy Lee was in­spired to call her new school “Lit­tle Sun­shine Acad­emy.” The class­room is filled with beau­ti­ful nat­u­ral light stream­ing in from huge win­dows over­look­ing Point Grey High School’s fields, and the al­most-fin­ished dé­cor is colour­ful, in­ter­ac­tive, and fun. Though she’s due to open the school in a mere two weeks, and per­mit holdups with the city have set back con­struc­tion, Peggy is warm and re­laxed, a woman who eas­ily takes chal­lenges in stride. With her back­ground as a suc­cess­ful busi­ness­woman in her im­port/ex­port busi­ness that deals with res­i­den­tial light­ing fix­tures, you wouldn’t think that open­ing a preschool would be on Peggy’s bucket list. Peggy grew up on Van­cou­ver’s West Side, and she grad­u­ated from UBC with a de­gree in English lit­er­a­ture and went straight to work. “I re­ally wanted to get out there straight into the busi­ness world”, she says, “I wanted to make my own money.” But since she and her hus­band Pas­cal Lavoie had their daugh­ter Alexan­dra two years ago, she found her pri­or­i­ties changed, and she threw her con­sid­er­able en­ergy into a pro­ject that would both ben­e­fit their daugh­ter, and be­come a long-term busi­ness it­self. And the chal­lenges have not been in­signif­i­cant. Be­cause of a pea-sized, dor­mant brain tu­mour that doc­tors de­ter­mined would be risky to re­move, even the road to par­ent­hood wasn’t easy. “I could not be preg­nant, be­cause it is right on my pi­tu­itary,” she ex­plains. So the cou­ple went through the chal­leng­ing roller­coaster ride of hav­ing their baby through a sur­ro­gate. “We re­lied on some absolutely amaz­ing peo­ple who helped us along the way, and luck.” When Alexan­dra was born, “I kind of freaked out,” she says, “I had no other ex­pe­ri­ence like this. My hus­band told me to tackle it like I do the busi­ness. So I tack­led it. And then I found joy.” “And then I found fear again, be­cause she is so pre­cious to us, and I couldn’t find a school. And I knew what I wanted for my child.” The more she looked, the more Peggy found that there was noth­ing that fit what she en­vi­sioned for her daugh­ter. She wanted to in­still the warm fam­ily val­ues that she had grow­ing up, she wanted her child to learn com­pas­sion, “It’s not just about ma­te­rial things, it’s knowl­edge and self-con­fi­dence, and pas­sion about learn­ing.” She never planned to open a 72-stu­dent school; her plan was to de­sign a spe­cial early child­hood ed­u­cat ion pro­gram for her daugh­ter, and maybe a cou­ple of other chil­dren, if they were in­ter­ested. But once again Pas­cal in­ter­vened. “He said, you have such a great idea, a great mes­sage, why are you not get­ting it out to peo­ple? Are you be­ing a bit self­ish? That’s the op­po­site idea of what you want to teach your daugh­ter.” And so the con­cept of Lit­tle Sun­shine Acad­emy was born. She de­cided to go for it, and threw her­self into the pro­ject with the pas­sion of a de­voted mother and the as­tute in­tel­li­gence of a busi­nessper­son. Mar­ket re­search was done, and Peggy went back to get her Masters in Early Child­hood Ed­u­ca­tion, dis­cov­er­ing that the more time she spent in school, the more her orig­i­nal ideas were re­in­forced by what she was learn­ing. She de­cided to open the school right in Ker­ris­dale, in the same build­ing as her orig­i­nal busi­ness of­fices, with mas­sive ren­o­va­tions de­signed by a tal­ented ar­chi­tect and de­signer. The school has two ex­pan­sive class­rooms filled with learn­ing ma­te­ri­als and led by a hand­picked team of ma­ture, ex­pe­ri­enced teach­ers, all of whom are par­ents them­selves, which was an im­por­tant at­tribute to Peggy. The school is dis­tin­guished from other preschools in a num­ber of ways: the school day is four hours long in­stead of two and a half hours, be­cause this gives par­ents a chance to ac­tu­ally do some­thing in their time off. A reg­is­tered di­eti­cian pro­vides the snacks, cus­tom­ized for ev­ery di­etary need. Man­darin classes are of­fered, and gym­nas­tics is taught. In the evenings, par­ents can join Peggy and speak­ers for learn­ing ses­sions about ev­ery­thing from cook­ing for kids to get­ting a bet­ter mort­gage rate. Lit­tle Sun­shine Acad­emy has be­come Peggy’s vi­sion, and with just a cou­ple of weeks un­til open­ing, peo­ple are lin­ing up to en­roll their kids, some­time a cou­ple of years in ad­vance. Peggy knows this is be­cause of both her pas­sion, and also her busi­ness savvy. “I know that any suc­cess­ful busi­ness has to cre­ate good value for their cus­tomers, in this case, the par­ents.” But she also feels strongly about the ben­e­fits this school will have for chil­dren. “It’s not a gim­mick, th­ese are the things I want for my own child.”

“I had no other ex­pe­ri­ence like this. My hus­band told me to tackle it like I do the busi­ness. So I tack­led it. And then I found joy.”

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