As a mom, I am always looking for ways to encourage Mia to use her mind. Most classes that are offered for kids are mostly physical – swimming, dance, soccer, you name it. Aside from her piano lessons, I had a difficult time finding anything that would exercise her brain…until I found out about AlphaMinds. AlphaMinds Academy is an academic enrichment program that offers classes in subjects like coding and chess (among plenty others) for children up to grade 8. At AlphaMinds, it’s about providing a fun and creative environment to encourage children to grow a passion for learning and being their best selves.
I met with momtrepreneur Anna to hear more about their programs, their approach to instruction, and the overall mission behind AlphaMinds Academy in Jersey City.
What is your name?
What do you do?
I am the owner and director of AlphaMinds Academy.
What is AlphaMinds Academy?
AlphaMinds Academy is an academic enrichment program that provides students of all ages and abilities the chance to pursue academic interests in a friendly and engaging environment that encourages each child to reach their full potential.
At AlphaMinds, we offer after school and Saturday classes for children in Chess, Coding, Logic, Mathematics, and Russian language. We believe children need more than the rote memorization of facts to appreciate learning. Our classes encourage students to build deeper levels of understanding by critically thinking about the subjects they are learning. All children learn at different levels, so we assign students to classes not based on their age, but on their specific interests and abilities. We offer small classes that provide students with specialized instruction to supplement the standard school curriculum.
When did you start this program?
I started with a small program in September 2011, where we primarily concentrated on the Russian immersion program for children of Russian heritage. We quickly saw interest in chess and math, so we added those classes and word spread. We started getting inquiries from other parents asking about enrollment into our chess and math classes. Two years later, we added Coding classes based on the demand from our students and their parents. That’s how we grew. Just on Saturdays alone, in our Jersey City, we offer almost 40 classes, which were attended by over 150 children overall last school year. We’ll be starting our 8th school year this September!
How long have you been in Jersey City?
Since day one. We used to be in the old Boys & Girls Club on Grand Street and we moved to the new Boys and Girls Club once that was built.
What are the ages you currently cater to?
For our academic enrichment program, we start logic classes for preschoolers at the age of 3. We have two levels: 3 to 4, and 4 to 5. We start Chess for Young Beginners classes at 4. Our academic math program starts at kindergarten and goes through eighth grade. Our coding classes start at grade 2. All of our classes are designed to go through eighth grade. Our Russian program starts even younger, at 1 year old with the Russian Mommy and Me music classes, and our oldest students are now 14-15 years old.
Is it tutoring or is it a full class?
The programs are designed to supplement the regular school curriculum. Our classes take place in small groups; we place children in classes according to their level, not just their age or grade in school. The classes attract a lot of children who are excelling academically and need more of a challenge. One of our parents sent us a result from his son participating in this international Math tournament and he came in 4th place. He did very well, and the dad was very complimentary of how AlphaMinds contributed to his son’s love for math and success in math. We have also had great success in helping children who need more support in understanding Math in order to reach their full potential and excel.
That’s great! I sucked at math. I don’t think I had the right instruction.
There’s no such thing as being “bad in math.” It truly makes me sad when I hear this. Every child can learn to understand and love math if taught well! At AlphaMinds Academy, we teach Mathematics based on the same curriculum that is taught in Singapore, which leads the world in assessment tests for math and whose students are routinely rated amongst the best in the world in Mathematics. What sets the Singapore Math curriculum apart from the rest is that it emphasizes a core understanding of mathematical concepts and stresses problem-solving through questions that become more complex in each grade level, rather than just teaching children how to do calculations. Our students start developing mathematical word problem solving skills from our Logic for Pre-schoolers program, through elementary school grades and beyond. With Singapore Math, each topic is learned in depth, from easier problems to really challenging ones, so children truly master each topic before moving on to the next one. Additionally, having passionate, dedicated, and experienced teachers who know what they’re doing, can recognize the strengths and weaknesses of each individual student, and help them develop those strengths and eliminate those weaknesses is the key component to any education.
You also offer chess to children. I never thought of putting my daughter in chess. What are the advantages?
Kids learning to play chess is an advantage in itself. There are numerous benefits to chess, like helping children develop concentration skills, patience, logic, and problem solving. There’s an infinite number of combinations on a chess board; it’s a new problem to solve. There are multiple studies that show it contributes to high IQ; an IQ can be developed. Children who play chess always perform better academically in other subjects – math, reading, literature, anything. It really develops your mind. In today’s world, kids always want to play on our phones. If you download some chess apps, they can play and at least instead of playing a mindless game, they can do something mentally stimulating, such as chess. For kids, we encourage them to exercise, we want them to swing, go to the gym, run, but what do we do to exercise their brains? Chess is a great tool for that, and the skill that stays with you for life!
Do you play chess?
Of course, but my younger son beats me easily. I only play at the basic level, sadly. One of these days, I should find time to join one of our Chess classes to improve my game.
You mentioned Logic for Pre-Schoolers. Can you please describe those classes?
At AlphaMinds Academy, we believe that logic is fundamental. It’s fundamental to mathematics, science, reasoning, cognitive thinking, and so much more. Traditionally, logic is not taught in a classroom setting. However, at AlphaMinds Academy, we’ve taken the ideas and concepts of logic and transformed them into a fun and exciting class to engage the children and get them excited about learning. Research has shown that children who are encouraged to understand the process of thinking tend to be inquisitive, creative, confident, and communicative. Through our interactive and engaging educational approach, our young students are introduced to such concepts as arithmetic reasoning, classification, patterns, sequences, analogies, and the art of problem solving. This helps young children develop their thought process, reasoning and critical thinking skills, which will guide them throughout their formative years.
And you also offer coding?
Yes, coding has become really popular with children nowadays. If done right, it’s a great educational tool. For our students from grades 2 through 5, we use a program called Scratch. Scratch is a project of the MIT Media Lab, which is a simple yet powerful programming language developed at MIT that uses color-coded blocks to appeal to young students and help them learn real coding commands and functions. Scratch is the most popular language for young coders, with about seven million users around the world. Instead of playing someone else’s games, they can use their imagination and create their own games; whatever their interests are, they can create a game that showcases those interests. They use their imagination, creativity, logic skills here and learn real object-oriented coding concepts.
You were inspired to start this program through the need to provide your children with Russian classes. For some of our readers who might be interested in that for their children, how would you describe the Russian program at AlphaMinds Academy?
I started our Russian immersion program back in 2011 while I was on maternity leave with my younger son because there were no Russian classes in our area for children and I decided to organize one for my own children, children of my friends and other children of our local Russian speaking community. The Russian-speaking community in Jersey City, Hoboken, and greater Hudson County is a very diverse, international community. We have families in our school from practically every former republic of Soviet Union, many families where only one parent speaks Russian, families of 2nd and even 3rd generation children born here, as well as families who have just recently arrived to this country. Our Russian program is designed to help children develop and retain Russian language skills from early childhood and into their teenage years. Everyone who is raising a bilingual child knows it’s not easy to keep the language. It takes dedication, perseverance, and continuous effort. We have a wide range of classes not only to teach Russian to children, but to also provide an immersion experience by offering Music, Drama, and Logic classes in Russian. We welcome children of all language abilities, ages 1 to 14 to our school!
Who is your typical student?
Just like Jersey City itself, AlphaMinds Academy has a very diverse student contingent. I am actually quite proud of the fact that even though we might have started out as a “Russian school,” we now have students of every race, ethnicity and a wide variety of cultural backgrounds. It’s a mini United Nations in our classrooms! The only requirement we have for anyone who comes through our doors is to bring their desire to learn with them!
Do you ever think of offering these programs for adults?
We have offered Russian and Chess classes for parents in the past. If there is enough interest, we are happy to add them to our program!
Any future plans?
I’d love to continue developing our chess program. We now have a class for children who are tournament players so they can continuously work on improving their US Chess Federation rating. We would like to encourage more of our students to try their hand at various math competitions. My personal dream is to start a bilingual pre-school program in our area.
That’s great! Can you tell me more about your teaching approach?
Our classes take place in a small group setting. We don’t place children based on grade level in school, we place them based on their ability. Sometimes we have children taking classes 1 or even 2 grades ahead of their current grade in school; if a child is advanced and capable, and has a passion for learning, why hold her back just because she’s younger? We have some really young students, 5-7 years old, who are doing extremely well in chess who already have a USCF rating and compete regularly in tournaments. We don’t hold anyone back. We really recognize individual strengths of students and we partner with parents to help children succeed and achieve their full potential. We will work with every child to make sure he or she is placed in the right level class to make sure they get all the support they need to grow and excel academically. Our main goal is to support each child! We don’t necessarily want to raise “little geniuses,” we just want to help them become life long learners and reach their full potential.
To become your own genius, exactly. That’s awesome. Where can people get more information?
The best way to learn more about our classes is to visit our website, alphamindsacademy.com
You can also find AlphaMinds Academy on Facebook.