By SHELLY WILKISON
Armed with a passion for healthy living and an education in child nutrition, the owner of Hilltop Children’s Center is hoping to fill a gap she sees in local child care offerings when her business opens next month.
Pooneh Jahadi-Yazdi, a busy mother of two and office manager at Liberty Hill Pediatric Dentistry, said she is excited about opening the doors of the brand new facility to the community in August.
The recently renovated 1,900-square-foot building, which is adjacent to the dental office owned by her husband, features brightly-painted walls, multiple rooms complete with educational activities, computer and game stations, a dining room, and areas for cultural learning and reading.
“This isn’t a typical day care center,” she said.
In describing the plans for the school, which will create as many as eight new jobs in the community, her enthusiasm is difficult to contain as she shares ideas for the curriculum and various activities.
Although not a Montessori school, Mrs. Yazdi said Hilltop will incorporate some of the successfull principles of a Montessori education into its offerings. Self-guided learning is positive in her view and she has seen its success in her own children, who attended a Montessori school in Cedar Park.
“Both of my kids could read and write before they got to kindergarten,” she said.
The focus of Hilltop will be educational rather that simple child care.
Children from age 2 1/2 to 5 years may attend a Mother’s Day Out program from 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. for two days, three days or all five days of the week.
Two- to three-year olds will be learning the alphabet and numbers, while four- to five-year olds will be set on a course to read and write preparing for kindergarten. Learning sight words and writing their names will be among the many goals.
Then, at the end of the school day, Hilltop will open to after-school care. Liberty Hill school buses will drop students at the facility where tutoring and homework help will be available to students from age 5 to 12 years.
“We will add more geography and cultural studies,” she said. “I don’t think they get enough of that in public school. We will have a circle time to discuss different countries and cultures, as well as a social support time.”
And unlike other child care facilities in the area, Mrs. Yazdi said Hilltop will offer extended hours to help commuting parents.
Students may stay until 7:30 p.m. during which time they will complete their homework and have access to computers for educational purposes.
Those who stay later than 6 p.m. will have hands-on experiences in meal preparation. Extended hour students will be served dinner, which they will help prepare and serve.
“Students will help prepare meals, set the table and serve and clean up,” she said. “Preparing and serving healthy foods will be part of the learning experience.”
She said the focus on healthy eating will be important at Hilltop. Menus will include more fresh fruits and vegetables. In fact, the students will grow their own food in a school garden, which will be incorporated into the curriculum.
Mrs. Yazdi teaches a weekly culinary class to college-level students at The Art Institute of Austin and is well-versed in nutritional instruction.
“The challenge of good nutrition for kids is finding things kids will eat and incorporating healthy foods with what they want to eat,” she said. “It’s as much about portions and balance as it is about the food itself.
“My philosophy is there are junk diets, not junk food. Finding a balance lets them enjoy it all,” she said.
Mrs. Yazdi said the extended hours program makes a child’s time at home more enjoyable. With dinner and homework completed, families can enjoy quality time before bedtime rather than having to stress over chores.
“I’ve been the parent who worked until 6, then rushed to get all the homework done, prepare meals and get the kids to bed,” she said. “Much of what I want us to do here is based on my own experiences, and the experiences of friends and patients here at the dental office.”
Born in Iran, Mrs. Yazdi’s parents sent her to live with relatives in the United States at age 13. Her mother, who was a teacher in Iran, wanted her children to have a college education. It was an unsettling time with the beginning of the Iran-Iraq War and access to college became something for the privileged and the politically connected.
After staying one year with her grandmother in New Jersey, she moved to Dallas to live with an aunt where she attended the last two years of high school. Her parents and younger brother moved from Iran to Dallas her senior year.
Mrs. Yazdi said her interest in nutrition as a career path developed after her father suffered a stroke at age 44 during his first year in the United States. She was attending the University of Texas at Austin at the time, but moved back to North Texas to help the family and enrolled in Texas Woman’s University. Ultimately, she earned two bachelor’s degrees in nutrition and biology, a master’s degree in nutrition and a doctoral degree (PhD) in nutrition with a special focus on child nutrition and obesity — all from TWU.
Mrs. Yazdi’s husband, Hamid Yazdi, is also from Iran, although the couple met in the United States. He attended dental school in Houston and owned practices in Phoenix, Arizona, and Leander before opening Liberty Hill Pediatric Dentistry. She has worked with him in each dental practice, and after moving to Central Texas started her own nutritional consulting business in Cedar Park.
She said she thought the time was right now for her to follow a longtime interest in teaching. Mentored by her mother the teacher and two aunts who own Montessori schools in Dallas and California, Mrs. Yazdi says she is looking forward to a new chapter in her life and making a difference in the Liberty Hill community.
Families are invited to attend an Open House at Hilltop Children’s Center from 12-4 p.m. August 10 or from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. August 16. The center is located at 9415 W. SH 29 next to Liberty Hill Pediatric Dentistry.