*One of the biggest, long-standing historical debates in American history has been that of education, especially as it pertains to underserved, minority communities. However, educator, entrepreneur and consultant Tiffany Ford, known as “The Childcare Guru,” believes she has the answers to giving urban youth the academic spark they need to flourish. With COVID-19 impacting the mental health of children and young adults, she says curriculums that embrace the arts are crucial.
A native of Philadelphia, Ford has worked passionately in the fields of childcare and education for the last 15 years. She is the owner of Little Leaders Learning Academy, co-owner of Stages Community School, and the founder of Leaders and Legends Performing Arts Academy, which teaches Jazz, Tap, Ballet, Modern Dance, Drama, Karate and vocal classes in southwest Philadelphia. Ford’s curriculums have thrived since 2009, offering both students and parents exposure to various resources and setting them up for success.
As a child, Ford experienced what many inner-city youth on the south side of Philadelphia experienced – gun violence in her neighborhood, as well as domestic and drug abuse in the home. Through the performing arts, she found her outlet, dancing for many years and competing in oratorical competitions. After college, she went on to work in social services and later earned a Master’s Degree in Psychology with a minor in Childhood Development.
Recent studies have shown that the COVID-19 pandemic has had a severe impact on childhood mental health and depression, resulting in the U.S. Surgeon General issuing an advisory detailing the urgent need to address the issue. School discipline, including detentions, suspensions and expulsions have also been an issue with more kids back in school than last year.
Reflecting on how the performing arts helped her to endure trauma, to express herself and to develop confidence, Ford prioritizes giving young people a place to direct their energy and anxiety.
“My child welfare background showed me what children need for safety, welfare and growth,” Ford said. “Sometimes kids need an outlet, especially when you have a lot of chaos happening in the home. School should be your safe place.”
Ford’s schools offer non-traditional learning programs, and what is referred to as a “creative curriculum,” to keep the youth excited and engaged about learning. Her Leaders and Legends Performing Arts Academy, which she runs with her program’s director Janine Ricks, is producing kids with very high achievement. Her young girls recently became the grand champions for their categories at the Inferno Regional Dance Competition in Lancaster, PA. They have proven that they can compete with other girls with more resources and from more privileged backgrounds. Aside from dancing and acting, students will be moved to the training institute, a pre-professional program that will prepare the children to eventually work in the arts and teach professionally.
“I want us to be the preferred performing arts school in Philly,” Ford said. “I make sure to hire the most qualified people to teach our students. I am very connected with arts instructors, directors, teachers and what ever is needed to make this the premier program.”
For more information, follow Tiffany Ford and her work on Instagram at @tiffany_thechildcareguru. Also, learn more about Little Leaders Learning Academy at www.littleleadersphilly.com and Legends Performing Arts Academy at www.leadersandlegendspac.com.