The feeling of family pervades Kelly Kelly's preschool in Hooksett
What might surprise her clients today is that upon starting the school almost immediately after college at the age of 23, Kelly struggled to earn the trust of her clients.
"It was challenging," she said. "The hardest part was getting people to take a 23-year-old seriously and trusting them to take care of their children. I was just out of college and didn't have children myself. Now, I find myself being older than most of the people who bring their children in, though I always view myself as younger because I was always so much younger than the parents."
Since that time, however, Tic-Tac-Tots, located on Bypass 28, has grown and expanded time after time. When the school first opened in 1996, it was licensed for 22 students and had only two staff members, including Kelly herself. Now, the school has a staff of 15 employees and a license for 75 students, though between part timers and full-timers, it has a total of 88.
Kelly said the school designs its own curriculum annually with monthly themes, with content heavily modeled after Hooksett elementary programs through their close relationship with teachers in the district to ensure a smooth transition for the students.
"Through the years you learn the ins and outs of what works and what doesn't," she said.
For Kelly, however, growth does not mean losing touch with her students.
"Even though we're licensed for 75, we really try to maintain that family atmosphere," she said. "We really try to make it so that the children are more than just a number or a dollar sign. They're a part of our family so we can be part of theirs."
Kelly's work with the community and children extends beyond the classroom, however. She has been involved with or led a long series and variety of charities and fundraisers over the years. One particularly noteworthy accomplishment was raising $21,000 in a Bowl-A-Thon for the benefit of a longtime Tic-Tac-Tots student with ALD, a rare genetic disorder. Since opening the school, Kelly has also held annual food drives for the N.H. Food Bank and Toys for Tots.
Now a mother herself, Kelly is entering her 17th year with the school. She said, however, having a child herself hasn't significantly changed her approach to child care, though it has made the job and its responsibilities more concrete.
"It helps me to understand where parents came from," she said. "That maternal instinct kicks in."