The American Bankers Insurance Group School is the first public school where education and employment exist side by side. At this "satellite school," children have mothers or fathers who work at the nearby office building. Both families and employers say they are benefiting from the concept.
Mornings for kindergartner Eric Jurksaitis don't include a school bus. He commutes to school in the family car with his mother behind the wheel. Their destination is Sinai Medical Center, where his mother teaches patients, and Mrs. Sznapstajler teaches Eric.
Eric is enrolled at the Mt. Sinai Medical Center satellite school, located behind the hospital. It's one of 30 such schools housed in work sites around the country, a merger designed to meet the needs of kids and their working parents.
"A satellite school is actually a school at work," explains work site school developer Mary Anne Ward of Bright Horizons Corporation. "It's a school that is for the children of employees that is at the workplace so that kids are actually at the same place as the parents are when they're at work."
Location is what makes work site schools popular with employees.
"Not having to run back and forth to pick up the kids at another school, psychologically to me, it's been great," says Danute Jurksaitis, Eric's mother. "I have [my children] close in case of emergency."
For employers, the bottom line is what makes the grade.
"The absenteeism is reduced by probably 25 percent from the rest of the workforce, and tardiness is nonexistent," says Philip Sharkey, vice president of American Bankers. "So, as a result, it really makes dollars and sense for us."
Satellite schools are created in conjunction with local public school districts. The teachers and curriculum are provided by the district, the facilities by the company. At the American Bankers Insurance Group School, 275 children of employees learn in a $2.5 million facility right across the lake from their mothers or fathers.
"They can look out the window, especially the small ones, and know, 'oh, my mommy's over there,' or 'my daddy's right over there,'" says Assistant Principal Pat Brack. "It's a really nice feeling for them."
It's a nice feeling for the parents, too, who often bypass the company cafeteria crowd for more youthful lunchtime companions.
"Lunchtime is [when] I get to sit here and see what he's eating," says underwriter Nadine Pelessier, who often joins her son, Derrick, 9, for their midday meal. "And you see, it's great. I really love i."
Increased parental involvement has proven to be an academic benefit as well as a social one at satellite schools like American Bankers.
"The parents are involved in an ongoing basis, the kids do well on test scores, the absenteeism rate is the lowest in the district, again, because the parents are at work and the kids are at school," Ward says.
Critics say satellite schools create homogenous student bodies made up of very similar company kids. But proponents say the opposite is true.
"The CEO's kids go to school with the janitor's kids, the secretaries' kids go to school with [the kids of] the men or women preparing the food," says Ward. "So, you have a real diversity in the classrooms which you don't get in the public school systems in the neighborhoods."
What really matters, say participants, is the opportunity to be a part of their child's education in a way working parents never imagined they could.
"It's not just dropping them off in the morning and expecting that they'll be taught," says father Evon Morris, whose daughter Natasha is a kindergartner at the school.
"It's really interaction with the parents that gets them
to learn and really enjoy their day at school. So it's wonderful," Morris adds.
Satellite schools like American Bankers encourage frequent parental visits. To facilitate parent-child meetings, school events are held during the company lunch hour. The school also has an afterschool care program so that children have a safe place to stay while parents work late.
Many American Bankers employees say one of the main reasons they decided to work for the company was because there was a work site school.
Ten new satellite schools are scheduled to open across the country next fall. Currently, the schools go only through the second grade.
Reported by Byron Pitts