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Thinking Out of the Box

A Bridgeport preschool's innovative approach to early education



Within the charming home at 246 Lenox Avenue in Bridgeport, more than a dozen students of The Adam J. Lewis Preschool spend their days surrounded by dedicated adults who are passionate about nurturing young minds and spirits. “It’s all in how we communicate with the kids,” says Julie Mombello, chief administrator of the school. “Role modeling, keeping positive, keeping the emphasis on developing expression, character and social skills.”

The overarching approach is important, she says, because some of the children come in with little to no communication or social skills in place. “We’ve had a four-year-old have no idea what to do when handed a book. He didn’t know to turn the pages,” Mombello says, adding that a low teacher-to-student ratio is key to the school’s methodology. “When a child comes in with that kind of gap, individual attention is key in order to make a big impact.” 

Patty Lewis, the school’s founder, had the idea for a preschool years ago. She and Mombello were overseeing a diversity campaign at Greens Farms Academy when they realized that the majority of children they screened were not ready for kindergarten. Admission for those kids would have meant starting out struggling—creating a negative impression of school right off the bat. “There is an invisible line between our communities, from affluence to abject poverty. It creates a crazy learning curve at these earlier ages,” says Lewis. “Julie and I talked about starting a preschool specifically to help out those kids who needed it.” 

As her own children grew older, Lewis thought the time had come to realize her vision. “I thought ‘why don’t I do it now?’ I thought I’d stick a toe in,” she says, prompting laughter from Julie: “There’s no toe-sticking here. This is full body immersion!” She found the vacant and foreclosed property at Lenox Avenue, called Lewis, and the two bought, gutted, and expanded the house. Plans to open the preschool in September 2013 were delayed, but the doors finally opened in December.

“That first group of parents really stuck with us,” remarks Lewis. “They signed on when we had nothing but a shell, nothing to see at all.”  She says that sort of dedication comes from parents who truly want the best for their kids—then they know what is available to them. “When it comes to stimulating the minds of children aged zero to six, the research is out there, but it’s being read by educated, affluent people for the most part,” she explains. “There is an entirely different population who has no idea.”

She adds that the problem can also be generational. “If the parents didn’t have preschool, they don’t even think of it—it’s not their fault,” she says. “But no one communicates its importance to them, and the cycle continues.”

To maintain the freedom to design their own curriculum, Lewis says, they do not take any city or state funding. 

“Public schools today are drowning in statistics, inputting test scores,” Patty says. “We want to offer the innovative programming we’ve developed.”

The idea is to prepare their students for entry into public kindergarten. “From here, some will go on to charter and magnet schools, but those slots are available by lottery. For those who go into public school, they might be moving from a 4:1 teacher ratio to a 24:1 teacher ratio,” Julie says. “It’s a pivotal moment and our kids have to enter kindergarten ready to go. A bad transition or immediate difficulty will be a negative for them.”

That transition is something Lewis and Mombello hope will happen within their school in the future.

“We would like to expand to K-2, keeping them until they learn to read, which is such a critical point in education,” says Mombello. “They could get to third grade having that foundation while still loving school.”

For now, the school relies on donors, fundraisers, and foundations to keep going. Community partnerships are valuable as well, enabling programs like monthly educational workshops for kids and parents, family music nights, dads’ group meet-ups, and yoga instruction.

The school’s combined focus on community, education, and opportunity lead Lewis and Mombello to name the school after Patty’s husband, Adam J. Lewis, who died in the World Trade Center on 9/11.

“Adam was a product of educational opportunity,” explains Lewis. “He grew up in the Bronx and then received a scholarship to the Dalton program,” she says of the private school on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. “From that experience, he knew how a person’s trajectory ties in. He never forgot about the opportunity he was given.” Lewis says naming the school for their father also left a wonderful legacy for their four children. Today, they and her two stepchildren help out as counselors during the school’s six-week summer program. 

“It’s a warm and safe environment,” says teacher Andy Lindberg, who commutes an hour each way to a job he loves. “When the kids come in, we always give them a happy greeting or share a joke, and they light up first thing in the morning—they’re lit up for the day.” As the school year gets underway, Lewis and Mombello are ready to welcome more smiling young faces through the door, as well as the adults who bring them there. “The kids are fabulous, and so are the parents. They are involved, excited, and cooperative,” Lewis says, emphasizing that it’s that sentiment that bonds all of us. “We all, they all, want the best for our kids.”

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September 2018

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Cost: Members and students with ID free. $10-$25

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Cost: Members: Free; Adults: $5; Seniors & Students: $3; children 5 and under: Free.

Where:
Fairfield Museum
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View map »


Website »

More information

In this key moment in our national history and the struggle for women’s equality and freedom of expression, the Fairfield Museum’s exhibition “Flappers: Fashion and...

Cost: Free

Where:
Fairfield Museum and History Center
370 Beach Road
Fairfield, CT  06824
View map »


Website »

More information

The Housatonic Museum of Art presents a new exhibition, “Drip Drop, Tick Tock” by regional artist, Joseph Fucigna. The show focuses on sculptures from the on-going Plastic Fencing...

Cost: Free

Where:
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View map »


Telephone: 120-333-25052
Contact Name: Robin Zella

More information

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Cost: Free for members; $10 for non-members; $8 for seniors and students with ID

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Telephone: 203-413-6735
Contact Name: Scott Smith
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Cost: Free and open to the public.

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1 Museum Dr
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Cost: Members and students with ID free. $10-$25

Where:
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1 Museum Dr
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View map »


Sponsor: Bruce Museum
Telephone: 2034136735
Contact Name: Scott Smith
Website »

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A series of graphic novel-style panels designed by illustrator Kirk Manley tells the dramatic story of the spy ring that operated between New York City, Long Island, and Fairfield during the...

Cost: Members: Free; Adults: $5; Seniors & Students: $3; children 5 and under: Free.

Where:
Fairfield Museum
370 Beach Rd
Fairfield, CT  06824
View map »


Website »

More information

In this key moment in our national history and the struggle for women’s equality and freedom of expression, the Fairfield Museum’s exhibition “Flappers: Fashion and...

Cost: Free

Where:
Fairfield Museum and History Center
370 Beach Road
Fairfield, CT  06824
View map »


Website »

More information

The Housatonic Museum of Art presents a new exhibition, “Drip Drop, Tick Tock” by regional artist, Joseph Fucigna. The show focuses on sculptures from the on-going Plastic Fencing...

Cost: Free

Where:
Housantonic Community College
900 Lafayette Blvd.
Bridgeport, CT  06604
View map »


Telephone: 120-333-25052
Contact Name: Robin Zella

More information

On June 23, the Bruce Museum in Greenwich opens Expressionism in Print: The Early Works of Richard Haas, 1957 - 64 in the Arcade Gallery. The exhibition will be on display through October 21, 2018....

Cost: Free for members; $10 for non-members; $8 for seniors and students with ID

Where:
Bruce Museum
1 Museum Drive
Greenwich, CT  06830
View map »


Telephone: 203-413-6735
Contact Name: Scott Smith
Website »

More information

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Cost: Free and open to the public.

Where:
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720 Pequot Avenue
Southport, CT  06890
View map »


Sponsor: Pequot Library
Telephone: 203-259-0346
Contact Name: Pequot Library
Website »

More information

Nature is on display in “A Reverence For Nature” with pieces that reflect the artists’ admiration of nature or the environment in a multitude of ways. Exhibiting artists include...

Cost: Free

Where:
Maritime Garage Gallery
11 North Water Street
Norwalk, CT  06854
View map »


Sponsor: Norwalk Parking Authority
Telephone: 203-831-9063
Contact Name: Nadia Martinez
Website »

More information

On August 18, 2018, the Bruce Museum will open A Continuous Thread: Navajo Weaving Traditions. This exhibition will trace the history of the Navajo weaving tradition from the earliest...

Where:
Bruce Museum
1 Museum Dr
Greenwich, CT  06830
View map »


Sponsor: Bruce Museum
Telephone: 203-413-6735
Contact Name: Scott Smith
Website »

More information

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Cost: Members and students with ID free. $10-$25

Where:
Bruce Museum
1 Museum Dr
Greenwich, CT  06830
View map »


Sponsor: Bruce Museum
Telephone: 2034136735
Contact Name: Scott Smith
Website »

More information

Show More...
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Where:
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Sponsor: Bruce Museum
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Cost: $30.00-$45.00

Where:
Wall Street Theater
71 Wall Street
Norwalk, CT  06850
View map »


Sponsor: Wall Street Theater
Telephone: 877-987-8764
Contact Name: Jeanne Moore
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A series of graphic novel-style panels designed by illustrator Kirk Manley tells the dramatic story of the spy ring that operated between New York City, Long Island, and Fairfield during the...

Cost: Members: Free; Adults: $5; Seniors & Students: $3; children 5 and under: Free.

Where:
Fairfield Museum
370 Beach Rd
Fairfield, CT  06824
View map »


Website »

More information

In this key moment in our national history and the struggle for women’s equality and freedom of expression, the Fairfield Museum’s exhibition “Flappers: Fashion and...

Cost: Free

Where:
Fairfield Museum and History Center
370 Beach Road
Fairfield, CT  06824
View map »


Website »

More information

The Housatonic Museum of Art presents a new exhibition, “Drip Drop, Tick Tock” by regional artist, Joseph Fucigna. The show focuses on sculptures from the on-going Plastic Fencing...

Cost: Free

Where:
Housantonic Community College
900 Lafayette Blvd.
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View map »


Telephone: 120-333-25052
Contact Name: Robin Zella

More information

On June 23, the Bruce Museum in Greenwich opens Expressionism in Print: The Early Works of Richard Haas, 1957 - 64 in the Arcade Gallery. The exhibition will be on display through October 21, 2018....

Cost: Free for members; $10 for non-members; $8 for seniors and students with ID

Where:
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1 Museum Drive
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View map »


Telephone: 203-413-6735
Contact Name: Scott Smith
Website »

More information

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Cost: Free and open to the public.

Where:
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View map »


Sponsor: Pequot Library
Telephone: 203-259-0346
Contact Name: Pequot Library
Website »

More information

Nature is on display in “A Reverence For Nature” with pieces that reflect the artists’ admiration of nature or the environment in a multitude of ways. Exhibiting artists include...

Cost: Free

Where:
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Sponsor: Norwalk Parking Authority
Telephone: 203-831-9063
Contact Name: Nadia Martinez
Website »

More information

On August 18, 2018, the Bruce Museum will open A Continuous Thread: Navajo Weaving Traditions. This exhibition will trace the history of the Navajo weaving tradition from the earliest...

Where:
Bruce Museum
1 Museum Dr
Greenwich, CT  06830
View map »


Sponsor: Bruce Museum
Telephone: 203-413-6735
Contact Name: Scott Smith
Website »

More information

ReTooled: Highlights from the Hechinger Collection, an engaging and thought-provoking look at the unexpected subject of tools, will be on view at the Bruce Museum in Greenwich, CT, from September...

Cost: Members and students with ID free. $10-$25

Where:
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1 Museum Dr
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View map »


Sponsor: Bruce Museum
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Contact Name: Scott Smith
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

A series of graphic novel-style panels designed by illustrator Kirk Manley tells the dramatic story of the spy ring that operated between New York City, Long Island, and Fairfield during the...

Cost: Members: Free; Adults: $5; Seniors & Students: $3; children 5 and under: Free.

Where:
Fairfield Museum
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View map »


Website »

More information

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Cost: Free

Where:
Fairfield Museum and History Center
370 Beach Road
Fairfield, CT  06824
View map »


Website »

More information

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View map »


Sponsor: Wall Street Theater
Telephone: 877-987-8764
Contact Name: Jeanne Moore
Website »

More information

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Cost: Free

Where:
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900 Lafayette Blvd.
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View map »


Telephone: 120-333-25052
Contact Name: Robin Zella

More information

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View map »


Sponsor: Wall Street Theater
Telephone: 877-987-8764
Contact Name: Jeanne Moore
Website »

More information

On June 23, the Bruce Museum in Greenwich opens Expressionism in Print: The Early Works of Richard Haas, 1957 - 64 in the Arcade Gallery. The exhibition will be on display through October 21, 2018....

Cost: Free for members; $10 for non-members; $8 for seniors and students with ID

Where:
Bruce Museum
1 Museum Drive
Greenwich, CT  06830
View map »


Telephone: 203-413-6735
Contact Name: Scott Smith
Website »

More information

Open during regular Library hours Paradise [Lost] features a collection of color photographs by Árpád Krizsán, Best in Show winner of Pequot Library's 2017 Art Show....

Cost: Free and open to the public.

Where:
Pequot Library
720 Pequot Avenue
Southport, CT  06890
View map »


Sponsor: Pequot Library
Telephone: 203-259-0346
Contact Name: Pequot Library
Website »

More information

Nature is on display in “A Reverence For Nature” with pieces that reflect the artists’ admiration of nature or the environment in a multitude of ways. Exhibiting artists include...

Cost: Free

Where:
Maritime Garage Gallery
11 North Water Street
Norwalk, CT  06854
View map »


Sponsor: Norwalk Parking Authority
Telephone: 203-831-9063
Contact Name: Nadia Martinez
Website »

More information

On August 18, 2018, the Bruce Museum will open A Continuous Thread: Navajo Weaving Traditions. This exhibition will trace the history of the Navajo weaving tradition from the earliest...

Where:
Bruce Museum
1 Museum Dr
Greenwich, CT  06830
View map »


Sponsor: Bruce Museum
Telephone: 203-413-6735
Contact Name: Scott Smith
Website »

More information

ReTooled: Highlights from the Hechinger Collection, an engaging and thought-provoking look at the unexpected subject of tools, will be on view at the Bruce Museum in Greenwich, CT, from September...

Cost: Members and students with ID free. $10-$25

Where:
Bruce Museum
1 Museum Dr
Greenwich, CT  06830
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Sponsor: Bruce Museum
Telephone: 2034136735
Contact Name: Scott Smith
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A series of graphic novel-style panels designed by illustrator Kirk Manley tells the dramatic story of the spy ring that operated between New York City, Long Island, and Fairfield during the...

Cost: Members: Free; Adults: $5; Seniors & Students: $3; children 5 and under: Free.

Where:
Fairfield Museum
370 Beach Rd
Fairfield, CT  06824
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In this key moment in our national history and the struggle for women’s equality and freedom of expression, the Fairfield Museum’s exhibition “Flappers: Fashion and...

Cost: Free

Where:
Fairfield Museum and History Center
370 Beach Road
Fairfield, CT  06824
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The Housatonic Museum of Art presents a new exhibition, “Drip Drop, Tick Tock” by regional artist, Joseph Fucigna. The show focuses on sculptures from the on-going Plastic Fencing...

Cost: Free

Where:
Housantonic Community College
900 Lafayette Blvd.
Bridgeport, CT  06604
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Telephone: 120-333-25052
Contact Name: Robin Zella

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On June 23, the Bruce Museum in Greenwich opens Expressionism in Print: The Early Works of Richard Haas, 1957 - 64 in the Arcade Gallery. The exhibition will be on display through October 21, 2018....

Cost: Free for members; $10 for non-members; $8 for seniors and students with ID

Where:
Bruce Museum
1 Museum Drive
Greenwich, CT  06830
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Telephone: 203-413-6735
Contact Name: Scott Smith
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Laura from Olive My Skin will be joining us to talk about her lovely natural soaps, wood wick soy candles and skin care line, all proudly made in Connecticut. All Fair Trade, paraben free,...

Cost: free

Where:
The Smithy
10 Main Street
New Preston, CT  06777
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Sponsor: The Smithy
Telephone: (860)868-9003
Contact Name: susan
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Formed in 1963 in Stamford, CT, The Fifth Estate was a central part of the garage rock movement. Remember NBC's 'Hullabaloo'? They performed their crackin' song 'I Just...

Cost: $28

Where:
Fairfield Theatre Company at StageOne
70 Sanford Street
Fairfield, CT  06824
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Open during regular Library hours Paradise [Lost] features a collection of color photographs by Árpád Krizsán, Best in Show winner of Pequot Library's 2017 Art Show....

Cost: Free and open to the public.

Where:
Pequot Library
720 Pequot Avenue
Southport, CT  06890
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Sponsor: Pequot Library
Telephone: 203-259-0346
Contact Name: Pequot Library
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Evocation of light is ever present in the romantic and experiential landscapes of Ira Barkoff. His recent works convey the spontaneity and the maturity of the artist’s hand and dedication to...

Cost: Free

Where:
Canfin Gallery
39 Main Street
Tarrytown, NY  10591
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Sponsor: 1953
Telephone: 914-332-4554
Contact Name: Jean-Claude Canfin
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On August 18, 2018, the Bruce Museum will open A Continuous Thread: Navajo Weaving Traditions. This exhibition will trace the history of the Navajo weaving tradition from the earliest...

Where:
Bruce Museum
1 Museum Dr
Greenwich, CT  06830
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Sponsor: Bruce Museum
Telephone: 203-413-6735
Contact Name: Scott Smith
Website »

More information

ReTooled: Highlights from the Hechinger Collection, an engaging and thought-provoking look at the unexpected subject of tools, will be on view at the Bruce Museum in Greenwich, CT, from September...

Cost: Members and students with ID free. $10-$25

Where:
Bruce Museum
1 Museum Dr
Greenwich, CT  06830
View map »


Sponsor: Bruce Museum
Telephone: 2034136735
Contact Name: Scott Smith
Website »

More information

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