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Ormond Beach Observer Wednesday, Sep. 5, 2012 6 years ago

Union Learning Center preschool gets artsy

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The Ormond Beach Union Learning Center starts its 2012 school year with a new art program, new teachers and an expansion on the way. 

BY MIKE CAVALIERE | ASSOCIATE EDITOR

Ormond Beach Union Learning Center Director and Administrator Faithlyn Thiruchelvam has ideas about how to make her school, and her city, great. Lots of ideas.

Set beside the 127-year-old Ormond Beach Union Church, at 56 N. Beach Street, her learning center has been established for the past seven years. And during all of that time, it’s been evolving.

Two years ago, Thiruchelvam instituted a one-on-one music program for children with autism at the school. But she doesn’t care for that word, “autism.” To her, it’s little more than a signifier of limitations. So, instead, she uses “special,” and rightly so: One of her students is a 3-year-old drummer, who can name every last note on the music scale.

“I’m helping special kids right now,” she said, sitting in a cluttered portable office adjacent to the church. “I consider this church as my own church … and I’m here to help the community.”

Back in 2005, the school started with two instructors and nine kids. After two months, the student body tripled, and the center brought on its eighth and ninth teachers this school year, which started Sept. 5.

With that sort of growth, Thiruchelvam is hoping to buy an extra building by next year, which would more than double the amount of students the Montessori-based school can currently accommodate, bringing the enrollment potential up to 90.

Even if the student base grows, though, Thiruchelvam doesn’t intend to the increase the child-to-teacher ratio, which she says is currently the lowest in town.

For ages 18-24 months, the Ormond Beach Union Learning Center’s new creative arts program aims to, in Thiruchelvam’s words, “make everything an art form.”

Instead of teaching the alphabet through the traditional song, the director will have her students creating paint projects about each letter. Instead of telling students about primary colors, she will have them mixing paints on canvas, so they can see for themselves.

“Through art and music, you can teach the kids to absorb,” she said. “Then they never forget.”

But Thiruchelvam’s aspirations don’t stop at the schoolyard gates.

She recently put her own money into upgrading the landscaping on the church’s campus and adding signage, in an effort to beef up the parish’s attendance, which she says has waned in recent years.

She’s also starting a nursing home visitation and bible study program this month, for which she’s currently seeking volunteers. But already, Thiruchelvam is a frequent nursing home visitor. She makes food for the patients and even brings them out to dinner and to buy new clothes. She says that she’s been told to be careful doing this, though, since it makes her liable in case of accidents. But that’s not something she worries about.

“I’m not scared of that,” she said, “because I’m doing it for God. He told me to help the poor, right?”

One day down the road, she hopes to open a preschool and adult daycare in adjoining buildings, as well. And every three years, the director organizes an Ormond Beach Intergenerational Musical Evening. And she invites everybody: current and former mayors, school principals, high school marching bands and cheerleaders and ROTC groups, emergency workers, even staff from Daytona State College to watch the acts from performers ages 1 to 100.

Pulling out a giant scrapbook from behind her desk, she says, “Look.” Then she flips to the middle. “These are my kids,” she says, pointing to photos from the six holiday music events she’s organized in the past 18 years. She points to photos of students playing instruments and in costume, of community leaders looking on and shaking hands.

Thiruchelvam’s seventh show won’t take place until next holiday season, but it’s already in the works. She admits that she doesn’t know much about it yet, but she knows that she will invite the governor, and she knows that it won’t make a dime.

Despite the time and effort she puts into it, the event has never been a fundraiser; that’s not its point. It’s one and only purpose, Thiruchelvam says — and she’s very clear about this — is “to bring the whole community together.” And that’s enough.

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