In 1997, former preschool teacher Hala Zakaria bought an existing daycare, Panda Playschool, in Choueifat, Lebanon. Panda Playschool offers programs in both English and French for children ranging in age from 18 months to six years. Interactive learning is a core component of its academic program, and each classroom boasts a multi-touch interactive board. Outdoor play spaces are important, too. The school has a playground and garden with birds and turtles, where students are served fresh fruits and other healthy snacks. During the summer break, the school offers summer programs and camps.
In 2010, Panda had a staff of 18 and 155 students enrolled in its daycare and KG 1 and 2 programs. The previous year, it had also purchased a piece of land in the Metn area and established Panda Park, an outdoor venue that offers a fully equipped outdoor playground, ten picnic areas, and food and beverages services.
Hala felt ready to expand the school even further. Her choices included adding an elementary school program, opening a second branch, or franchising her concept. Unsure of which direction to head, she enrolled in AMIDEAST’s Cisco Entrepreneur Institute’s “Growing a Business” workshop, hoping that it would help her make a sound decision.
Hala credits the workshop with improving her focus and helping her to reduce staff turnover as she learned to keep her staff motivated through improved internal communication and staff training programs. The importance of having a data base for tracking client data and using social media to reach out to new parents were other valuable lessons that she learned.
A mobile application now allows parents to register their child, send messages, and view information such as school news updates, daily student reports, teacher awards, and any forms that are sent home with students.
In addition, networking events organized by the Cisco Entrepreneur Institute and its successor, the AMIDEAST Entrepreneur Institute, have helped her connect to other business owners, experts, and many new clients.
Since taking the workshop, Hala has hired an additional 12 employees and increased student enrollment to its maximum capacity of 180. That will soon change, once construction of an additional floor is complete, allowing the school to enroll 300 students. She is already planning to recruit 10 additional employees in the coming months, bringing the total to 40.
Meanwhile, Panda Park has become a huge success. As word of the park spread to organizations across Lebanon, Hala decided to open it to the public. During the spring and summer, it operates seven days per week to service the needs of other daycare centers, schools, summer camps, and clubs for a variety of outdoor activities.
“My participation in the “Growing a Business” workshop was an extremely motivating and beneficial experience,” says Hala. “It helped me evaluate my strengths and weaknesses and the way I run my business. I’m thrilled to be on a growth path that is allowing Panda School to meet the learning needs of many more children.”
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