WEST ORANGE, NJ — Every family who comes in to the Goddard School in West Orange to inquire about enrolling their child learns about franchise owner Nicole Harrison's journey.
It's not so much that Harrison, who opened Goddard School West Orange at 303 Mt. Pleasant Ave. in June, relishes talking about herself, but rather that she believes that her story is one that many other moms who come in to Goddard can relate to.
"I am very relatable to the families here," said Harrison, who has two 14-year-old stepdaughters who just entered high school and two sons of her own, ages 4 and 5.
Her is a story of a mom who loved her kids, but who felt the need to get back into the working world after having them.
"I was a JV girls soccer coach at Belleville High School," said Harrison. "I was on the sidelines coaching when I was nine months pregnant. I had my son, and I was lucky enough to be home with him the first year. I was not tenured, so it was a risk, but I felt it was worth it.
"Very quickly, my second son came 15 months later. After he was born, I was ready to get back to work, but I wondered, 'What is my purpose, what am I meant to do?' I was trying to figure out what my next move was. I started substituting, but looking for child care was a very stressful thing for me. It was anxiety-inducing, wondering 'Are my children somewhere safe?' I was not quite finding what I was looking for until my friend suggested the Goddard School."
Harrison, who had a background in management, sales and marketing prior to becoming a physical education teacher and a coach, connected with the owner of the Fairfield Goddard School.
"My son really wanted to engage with the kids there," she said. "I went back to work, and I started seeing my kids do some really cool things in this environment. They were getting more out of being in a group environment than they would at home or with a nanny."
Upon learning that Goddard was a franchised business model, Harrison said she was "feeling inspired."
"I told my husband I think this would be a good venture for us," she said. "It was a good role for a person like me with business experience, an education background and being a mom. We took quite a bit of time to see if we could do it financially. Went through all my doubts about taking on a business venture. It turned out to be the best decision I made in my entire life."
From the time Harrison first explored the idea of opening a Goddard School franchise, it took more than three years before the ribbon was cut in West Orange at the end of last spring.
"It has been a very exhausting experience, but very fulfilling," said Harrison. "When I think back to who I was, sitting on my couch thinking what’s my next move, now the confidence I have built is so much greater. I am proud of myself for what I have become.
"Every parent who comes to my school knows my story. Moms know there are bigger things out there. If you believe in yourself, you’re capable of big things. You will go through a lot of emotion along the way. Working 60 hour weeks, in the end you do find that balance where you can. It is possible to be a great wife and mother and still be a great entrepreneur."
Business is currently booming at the Goddard School in West Orange, but there is still room for new students.
"Everything has been been going really well," said Harrison. "I wanted to provide a great Goddard school and take it to an elevated level. We have the cleanest Goddard School, and we have the best communication. In fact, we are over-communicators. I believe in transparency. I am aware of what is important to families."