January 24, 2006 > Fantasia Learning Center
Fantasia Learning Center
by Venkat Raman
Fremont is home to a day care center with a twist. Fantasia Learning Center, located in the Warm Springs district, is organized like a day care center but is operated very differently. Parents may drop their school-going children in the K-8 age group between the hours of 8:30 am and 6:30 pm and the learning center takes care of them for the day, including transporting them to and from their school, as needed. The main difference is in how the children spend their time at the center outside school hours. At Fantasia, they experience an immersion in Chinese culture with exposure to a diverse set of pertinent skills. Depending on which specific skill interests a student, he or she has the option of taking additional evening or weekend classes.
Carol Ma, director of the learning center, hails from Taiwan and has been a teacher for over three decades. "Right from childhood, I have always wanted to be a teacher," said Ma. Preferring to work with young children of elementary school age, she started a performing arts center in Taiwan. Founded in 1987, this center was run by Ma for two years after which she left for Beijing in China before emigrating to the United States in 1990. When she arrived in the United States, Ma went back to school and completed her Masters degree before continuing to nurture her entrepreneurial spirits. Building on the success of her venture in Taiwan, she started the Fantasia Performing Arts Center in Cupertino in 1994 and has been serving as its director.
Ma's vision of educating young children through the cultural immersion technique had a concrete beginning in the establishment of Fantasia Learning Center in 1998, also in Cupertino where she lives. Starting small, the learning center has enjoyed a faithful following and robust growth despite dependence on word-of-mouth marketing. Ma found that learning center families were gradually moving to the Fremont area and decided to follow them and open the Fremont center in 2003. The learning center now boasts 30 to 60 students.
The center teaches art, calligraphy, Chinese pen brush, music (choir and percussion), Kung Fu, Chinese dance and animation through the week. Ma and supervisor Frances Chang routinely monitor these classes and note the skills that attract each of the students. It is then left to the family to enroll the student in advanced classes to further develop the skill. Students of any cultural background are welcome to enroll at the center. For example, students of Vietnamese and Indian origin are currently enrolled. Students from the Ruskin School in Berryessa (San Jose) to Forest Park School in Ardenwood are at the learning center. For the specialized classes mentioned, Ma hires professionals trained in the respective areas. Due to the special nature of teaching involved, the teachers are generally Chinese, and Ma is willing to extend H-1 visa sponsorship to these teachers. However, a Masters degree from a US educational institution is a requirement for employment.
An important aspect of education at the learning center is the opportunity to demonstrate learned skills by performing to an audience. Ma encourages such performances at non-profit institutions. In addition to such invited events, the learning center students perform annually at the Fantasia Performing Arts Center. The center provides all necessary costumes for such performances. In the interest of teaching Chinese culture to students and exposing it to audiences far and wide, all performances are free for attendees and student expenses are limited to the cost of tuition. Donations are always welcome to help support the learning center's operations. Ma is also looking for a grant-writer to channel outside funds to the center.
"I am not a good businesswoman," states Ma. Fortunately for the community, the founding and successful operation of the Fantasia Learning Center suggest otherwise. You can enjoy performances by the learning center students at these coming events in the Bay Area commemorating the Chinese New Year:
January 28 - Chinese Culture Center - Sunnyvale
February 5 - Tri-City Rotary Club
February 11 - Fremont Main Library
Please contact Carol Ma at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 408-480-3035 or 510-226-8840 for more details on these programs. You may also visit www.fantasia-pac.org. The Fremont Classroom is located at 47810 Warm Springs Boulevard. In Cupertino, Fantasia is located at 10568 Johnson Avenue.