Tirusha Dave has taken it upon herself to change the misconception of what child care and early education is. She also wants to ensure and provide high quality early education that is both affordable and sets the children up for success.
Dave, the owner and founder of Ellie’s Academy, an early education school based in New Jersey, with three locations, has done an exceptional job for someone who was always surrounded by family members who questioned her decision to take up a career in early childhood education.
Dave has broken the mold when it comes to careers a South Asian Indian woman embarks on. She talks about the cliché within the community that children go to college to become doctors, lawyers and engineers.
“Growing up in a South Asian Indian family, having gone to an amazing school, attaining a four-year degree, and then telling your parents that this is the type of job you’re gonna take, was a big deal,” Dave said. “There are a lot of alternative career paths that, unfortunately, we don’t shed a lot of light on.”
Dave has been working in the field of early education for nearly 15 years. She took her first job as a preschool teacher, knowing full well that early childhood education or childcare is traditionally not a very high-paying job.
She explains her decision: “People don’t do what they do in this field, because there’s a glamorous six-figure salary at the end of the day. So I knew when I took that job that I loved working with children, but I didn’t always want to remain in a classroom setting, I wanted to be able to do more. And that meant that I had to get to an administrative or leadership position to be able to implement change.”
After gaining substantial experience in the space of early education at a nationally recognized childcare company, Dave opened her first Ellie’s Academy location in 2019, just before the pandemic hit, set up the second in 2021 at the peak of the pandemic, and the third one this June.
The story behind the name – Ellie’s – is not a glamorous one.
“I’m gonna be really honest,” Dave said. “My husband and I have a stuffed animal since we’ve been dating, and its name was Ellie. And I just wanted something short, sweet and simple for the kids to say.”
For many parents paying for child care is almost like paying for a mortgage on a house. But the preparation there was not enough for kindergarten.
Dave says, “I was seeing that parents were paying for a private kindergarten education at a child care center. Then the kids were going into first grade not feeling confident, not having the tools to succeed and actually struggling. It made me take a step back and wonder, why are parents paying when the children aren’t being successful when they go to school? They should have confidence, they should have a baseline foundation where they’re able to stand out among their other peers in first grade, and not struggle.”
At Dave’s child care academy, the kids are as young as six weeks and as old as five years. At the height of the pandemic, when many schools shut down temporarily – some even permanently – not once did either of her centers shut their doors.
Dave’s plans include expanding the business beyond state lines.
“Ultimately, I would love to grow and expand,” Dave said. “New Jersey is our home ground. It’s our home territory. So, I’m focusing on this, but [will consider it] if the opportunity ever presented itself in the future, like in Pennsylvania. I have my best friend in Florida. He always jokes, oh, you should open one in Orlando. I’m not opposed to it in the long term. But short term, I want to focus on this area first.”
Dave advocates a partnership between the child care center and the parents to build a conducive learning environment for the child.
“Yes, your child is with us eight to ten hours out of the day,” she said. “And we have that time to educate them, to mold them and to teach them but there has to be a relationship between the home and school environments. What we implement in a classroom setting we also tell the parents to please [affirm] the same thing at home, so that the child sees consistency.”
Dave believes that if a change has to be made, it has to be something that’s beneficial to the child’s experience, the parents’ experience, and that it should make the teacher’s job more efficient.