Business & Finance

South Plainfield Entrepreneurs Win Big With Smartycat Kids

Michelle Oppelt teaches West Texas Inventors Club investor Wayne ‘Butch’ Gilliam how to conduct a Smartycat lesson. Credits: Courtesy of
Wayne ‘Butch’ Gilliam of West Texas Inventors Club conducts a Smartycat lesson to a group of fourth and fifth graders at a school in Texas. Credits: courtesy of
Michelle Oppelt and Samantha Corevelyn of Smartycat Kids, Inc. and participants of the company’s Groovy Girls camp. Credits: Smartycat Kids, LLC
Participants in Smartycat Kids’ Junior Scientists program prepare for their erupting soda geysers. Credits: Smartycat Kids, LLC
Participants in Smartycat Kids’ Junior Scientists program erupting soda geysers.  Credits: Smartycat Kids, LLC

SOUTH PLAINFIELD, NJ – For nearly a decade, Smartycat Kids, LLC has been providing hands-on, STEM-based educational enrichment programs to preschool and elementary age students throughout central New Jersey. Now, following a successful appearance on CNBC’s West Texas Inventors Club (WTIC), Smartycat Kids may soon by on the way to becoming a franchised national company.

Owned and run by South Plainfield natives Michelle Oppelt and Samantha Corveleyn, Smartycat Kids was established in 2007. Frustrated by the lack of science programs available to her own preschool-age son, Oppelt, who has a degree in biological science from Rutgers, took matters into her own hands and created a Junior Scientists curriculum for preschool and elementary age students. She then rented out a small room at a Westfield church and passed out fliers for her classes.

The goal, said Oppelt, was to ‘teach fun, hands-on science classes’ and interest in the program grew quickly. Within a few weeks of holding her first class, Oppelt was asked to offer her Junior Scientists programs at the Westfield Recreation Center located next door to the church. Soon other recreation departments were also requesting classes and, in 2012, Corveleyn, a former Smartycat instructor and program manager, joined the company as a 50/50 partner.

Sign Up for E-News

Since that time, class offerings have been expanded to include not just Junior Scientists but other STEM-based programs. In the fall, LEGO Tech Plus will join such programs as Intro to Robotics, Fun with Physics, Cool Chemistry, and Junior Engineers. There are also technology and engineering workshops as well as art and hobby based classes such as Creative Art Lab, Comic Book Creation, and Storytelling and Illustration.

“We offer fully hands-on educational enrichment programs –after-school classes, summer programs, and special events – that are designed to be stimulating and challenging, encourage team-building, and, most importantly, are fun,” said Oppelt. 

Smartycat Kids programs are geared toward parents/guardians who want to give their child the opportunity to immerse themselves in hands-on learning. The programs, said Oppelt, enable children to able to build upon subjects that they are learning in school in a way that is fun and exciting. Additionally, all programs are designed to give children a chance to socialize and work with peers in a productive way that fosters friendships, and focuses on team building and the importance of working together.

Together, Corveleyn and Oppelt create the Smartycat Kids curriculum and a staff of roughly 12 instructors travel to various schools, recreation departments and community centers throughout the Garden State to deliver the programs to preschool and elementary age students (up to grade six). Currently, programs are held in Berkley Heights, Clark, Colonia, Cranford, East Brunswick, Fanwood, Millburn Township, Mt. Olive, Pine Brook, Scotch Plains, Springfield, Summit, Washington Township, Westfield and at Raritan Valley Community College.

In 2012, Oppelt moved out of South Plainfield to start the second branch of Smartycat Kids in the Memphis, TN, area while Corveleyn continues to live in the borough and run the company’s New Jersey operations.

The overall goal, said Oppelt, is to franchise Smartycat Kids so that other students throughout the country can benefit and, with its success on WTIC last month, the company now has some of the necessary funds to do so.

Oppelt went onto the show seeking a $50,000 investment in exchange for 15-percent equity in Smartycat Kids. “We were asking for the capital in order to franchise the company [and] ended up being the first company on the show to receive the full amount we were seeking. They agreed on the full $50,000 investment…” said Oppelt.

Last year, Smartycat Kids was one of the final contestants for ABC’s Shark Tank but, despite being one of 100 out of 40,000 companies selected, they were cut just prior to heading to California to film. Smartycat Kids, however, got a second chance when one of Shark Tank’s casting directors passed along the company’s information to WTIC and they were asked to apply for the cable network show’s second season.


Oppelt said they jumped at the opportunity to pitch the company. Unlike Shark Tank in which entrepreneurs get just a few hours (only a few minutes actually air) before the panel of investors to present their company, product or ideas, WTIC investors spend a week getting to know the company and its owners. The final decision of whether or not to invest is based upon not only a company’s financials and profitability, but also on one’s character, morals and mission.

“That is what truly drew us to this show and make us excited for the opportunity,” said Oppelt. “Our company has always been about our students and providing them with unique learning opportunities that we truly believe with benefit their lives, not about the profit.”

As part of the show’s criteria, each company that appears is given a challenge to perform for investors Wayne ‘Butch’ Gilliam and Rooster McConaughey. Oppelt’s challenge was to teach Gilliam and McConaughey, both self-made millionaires, how to instruct a Smartycat Kids program. Oppelt and the investors went to McConaughey’s son’s school and there she showed them how to teach a lesson to a group of 30 fourth and fifth graders.

“The kids had a great time, and the investors got to see first hand what our programs and our company is all about,” Oppelt said, adding that the program resonated with Gilliam, who was discouraged in school as a child and dropped out at a young age. “After teaching our class, he said that if he would have had fun and engaging programs with positive and encouraging teachers like ours, he would have loved going to school and never dropped out.”

She continued, “The investors really validated everything that we stand for, and made it clear that they believed in our company and in our mission to enrich students' lives.”

At this time, Smartycat Kids is working on expanding its programs into other states across the nation, including Oppelt and Corveleyn’s hometown.

“We have been talking with various members of the South Plainfield school board and are hoping to be able to make enrichment programs available soon,” said Oppelt, noting that communities such as North Plainfield, Green Brook and Watchung are also areas she’d love to see Smartycat Kids offered in the future.

“We want to see Smartycat Kids become a national, or even international, company - reaching as many children as possible each year, and making a positive impact on their lives,” Oppelt said.

For more information on Smartycat Kids, Inc., including local locations, visit; follow ‘Smartycat Kids LLC’ on Facebook; or email

TAPinto South Plainfield is South Plainfield’s only free daily paper. Sign up to get all the news as it happens at and follow us on Facebook at and on Twitter at @SoplainfieldTAP.

TAP Into Another Town's News:

You May Also Be Interested In

Sign Up for E-News

South Plainfield

The Athlete of the Week Alejandro Garcia Boys’ Spring Track

The South Plainfield Boys’ Spring Track has continued to be one of the most successful programs for the Spring Athletic Season.  The Boys’ have been dominate in the Greater Middlesex Conference Blue Division for the last few years.  After being decimated by graduation, the Tigers were not sure what the season would hold.  South Plainfield once again won the Blue ...

The Athlete of the Week Christopher Shine Baseball

The South Plainfield High School baseball team is continuing to have a successful 2018 season with a record of 15-9. This past week, the Tigers went 4-0 beating out of conference foes North Hunterdon, Montgomery, and Bernards.  They finished the week with a win in the first round of the Greater Middlesex Conference Tournament, over Carteret.   A major contributor to South ...

Holy Savior Cheerleading Squad Takes Season by 'Storm'

SOUTH PLAINFIELD, NJ – Holy Savior Academy’s (HSA) ‘Biddy’ Cheerleading Squad, the Storm,  recently completed their 2017-2018 season with a first place win in their division at Cheerfest. Held May 12 at Six Flags Great Adventure, the annual multi-state competition featured teams from throughout New Jersey. 

“This cheer season has been such an ...


South Plainfield – Dorothy Rotola, 91, passed away Thursday, May 24, 2018 in Ashbrook Nursing ...
Read more

Letters to the Editor

Tree Olano Says "Thank You"

May 23, 2018

The infamous “Senior Gardens” is a huge part of the senior center .  The vegetables are all planted and ready for a fruitful harvest!

I wanted to extend a “thank you” the following people who made this happen:

The  Department of Public Works – Kristina Nieradka for taking my many calls with kindness and professionalism; Donna Zereconski, ...

Middlesex County College Graduates 1480 Students May 17

May 22, 2018

EDISON, NJ - A total of 1514 degrees and certificates were awarded to 1480 students by Middlesex County College Thursday, May 17 at the 51st annual Commencement exercises witnessed by approximately 3500 guests at the Rutgers Athletic Center.

Valedictorian Sindhu Murthy (Highland Park) delivered the class welcome, sharing her experiences and aspirations. Ms. Murthy, who graduated in January and ...

Community Happenings


May 12, 2018

SOUTH PLAINFIELD, NJ - On Saturday, June 2, 2018 from 11AM to 5PM, the John E. Riley PTSO (JER PTSO) will be hosting its first ever Food Truck Festival!


Come out for a good time while supporting a good cause! Proceeds from this event will go to replacing the 2 broken playground structures at John E. Riley Elementary School costing approximately $80,000. 11+ food trucks including ...

Holy Savior Cheerleading Squad Takes Season by 'Storm'

May 21, 2018

SOUTH PLAINFIELD, NJ – Holy Savior Academy’s (HSA) ‘Biddy’ Cheerleading Squad, the Storm,  recently completed their 2017-2018 season with a first place win in their division at Cheerfest. Held May 12 at Six Flags Great Adventure, the annual multi-state competition featured teams from throughout New Jersey. 

“This cheer season has been such an ...

Holy Savior Academy to Hold 7th Annual 5K Run & Family Walk in June

SOUTH PLAINFIELD, NJ – Calling all runners and walkers! Holy Savior Academy will hold its 7th Annual 5K Run and 1 Mile Family Walk on Saturday, June 2. Proceeds from this year’s family-friendly event will benefit the school’s academic, athletic, and extracurricular programs.

“Holy Savior Academy’s annual 5K offers the school an opportunity to provide other ...

Memorial Day Services ­Announced

May 22, 2018

The South Plainfield Memorial Day Services, hosted by the American Legion Post #243  and the Veterans of Foreign Wars Memorial Post #6763  will be held on Monday, May 28.  It will commence at the American Legion Post 243 at 9:00 a.m.  The procession will start with the tradition of wreath laying  at 10 a.m. in Monument Park.( Attendees may park in Veterans Memorial ...

Road Projects - Closures

SOUTH PLAINFIELD, NJ -  Road resurfacing continues on Joan Street between South Plainfield Avenue and Maple Avenue plus Michael Street.  Roadways are closed to local traffic only.  This information was sent via Nixle Alert.

Staying Fit at the Senior Center

SOUTH PLAINFIELD, NJ - Staying fit and getting plenty of good exercise is a high priority at the South Plainfield Senior Center, located at 90 Maple Avenue in South Plainfield. Classes on health issues and a wide range of physical exercise are available almost daily.

The Walking Group meets every Friday, weather permitting, starting on May 18 and going through October. Participants meet at the ...

Upcoming Events


Mon, May 28, 9:00 AM

South Plainfield

Memorial Day Services ­Announced

Wed, May 30, 6:00 PM

South Plainfield Public Library, South Plainfield

Town-Wide Girl Scout Registration

Sat, June 2, 9:00 AM

South Plainfield

Holy Savior Academy 5K and Family Fun Walk

Health & Wellness


Sun, June 3, 2:00 PM

South Plainfield

South Plainfield Public Library presents ...


Thu, June 7, 7:00 PM

South Plainfield

Origami Craft Night at the South Plainfield ...


Diegnan & Ruiz Bill to Establish Grant Program to Develop Dual Language Immersion Programs Advances

TRENTON – Legislation sponsored by Senator Patrick J. Diegnan Jr. and Senate Education Chair M. Teresa Ruiz to establish a grant program for school districts and charter schools to develop dual language immersion programs was released from the Senate Education Committee today.


“The best way for a student to excel in a foreign language is an immersion program,” said ...

The Queen of the Big Time by Adriana Trigiani (Ballentine Books, 2005)

            The Queen of the Big Time by Adriana Trigiani, a New York Times best selling author, was recommended to me by a young woman who actually came from the town of Roseto, Pennsylvania, the place where the novel is set. “The author did such a wonderful job of describing how the town actually is,” said the young lady.


The South Plainfield Public Library will be closed this Sunday, May 27 and Monday, May 28 due to Memorial Day.  Because of the holiday, there will be no movie showing this week on Monday evening or Wednesday afternoon.  Monday Night Movies will resume the week of June 4, with a newly released selection.

This Saturday, May 26, the library is hosting a Mario Kart Tournament: Blindfold ...

TAPinto Featured Franchisee: Steve Lenox of TAPinto Paterson

This week's feature will focus on TAPinto Paterson's franchisee, Steve Lenox. Find out how the current owner of a public affairs firm went from a former State Director for Senator Frank Lautenberg to a proud TAPinto franchisee for New Jersey's third largest city.


Q. When did you join

I joined in September, ...

Suburban Woman’s Club Welcomes You

The Suburban Woman’s Club of South Plainfield is welcoming new members. Enjoy creative fund raisers, interesting activities while participating on standing committees, informative monthly programs, and the camaraderie of women whose efforts enhance the community. The club meets at 1:00 PM on the first Thursday of each month, September through June, at the American ...

Press Releases

Pinkin Resolution to Raise Awareness of Gun Violence passes Assembly

May 24, 2018

TRENTON, NJ - Assembly Democrats Yvonne Lopez, Angela McKnight and Nancy Pinkin resolution to raise awareness of gun violence was voted out of the Assembly 67-0 on Thursday.
            The measure (AJR-100) designates June 2 of each year as “Gun Violence Awareness Day” in New Jersey in order to promote ...