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Miami Proud: Centner Academy Calls Itself The 'First Happiness School'

MIAMI (CBSMiami) - Everything about Centner Academy preschool is bright, colorful and designed to increase happiness to lead to academic performance. The school's founding principles are a holistic approach to wellness, kindness, and education.

In a physical education class, children step on a balance beam and in between cones, while their young formative brains are at work.

Jimena Hills is a recreational therapist and serves as the school's director of brain optimization.

She explains the purpose of the exercises.

"You want to see them balancing, looking at something, being able to focus on something else simultaneously, that way their brains are acting from the brainstem in a natural way and they are able to focus their attention elsewhere like you would sit in a classroom, look at the teacher and write."

Miami Proud Centner Academy Preschool
Centner Academy preschool (CBS4)

You can call it the brainchild of power couple Leila and David Centner. When they couldn't find exactly the school they wanted for their daughter, they built it. The private school opened in Miami last fall and today has about 300 preschoolers to eighth-graders enrolled.

The foundation is that a student's success and well-being starts with a healthy and happy mind.

"Focusing on mindfulness, emotional intelligence, focus on the brain, the whole child, so that they can achieve amazing academic excellence," said Leila Centner, CEO. "During morning mindfulness, they do breathing, they talk about emotions, and talk about kindness, about compassion. They talk about things that they can do for each other that's kind."

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There are separate classrooms for math, reading, art, you name it, each with a cozy calming space for a very different type of time out.

Miami Proud Centner Academy Preschool
Centner Academy preschool (CBS4)

"We've got zen zones in every classroom. We've got a mindfulness coach that has taught the teachers how to use the zen zones," Ms. Centner explains. The students can contribute their favorite toy or stuffed animal to comfort them in these zones.

"Conflict resolution is huge. At the end of the day if a child is stressed or anxious, they are not learning or absorbing any information," she stated.

A great deal of thought also went into the well-being of the teachers. The Centners took note of the high cost of living in Miami and addressed it.

"In the area around the preschool, we have invested in quite a few single-family homes that our teachers can live in and walk to work," said David Centner "It's been a great way to attract and recruit teachers for the school."

Centner Academy has two campuses with plans to open a high school next year.

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