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In 1960, while teaching in a public school, Barbara Baker became alarmed that her first grade students had received no academics in kindergarten, depriving them of the best years for establishing a foundation for learning.
Public schools had dropped phonics in favor of the “sight method” (teaching reading by memorizing one word at a time). Imagine! Reading without phonics! Just before the birth of her fifth child, she decided to leave the comfort of the public schools and started her own preschool where she could teach phonics to children before they went to public school. “I figured that if they learned phonics in preschool, no one could take that away from them. And in the meantime, I could teach my new little daughter and teach only in the mornings.”
“It was the right place at the right time,” Barbara recalled. “Rudolph Flesch’s book Why Johnny Can’t Read was a best-seller. Concerned parents in the rapidly growing Silicon Valley wanted their children to learn to read with phonics.”
In Barbara’s first class, there were only six paying students. Her intention to teach half a day did not last long, however. Two years later, as fascinated parents witnessed their children singing songs and bubbling with excitement about learning, the tiny preschool had grown to 100 half-day preschool students with 100 students waiting for admission.
Challenger has expanded slowly in order to maintain high standards. Challenger now has 27 campuses in five western states serving more than 10,000 preschool through eighth grade students annually.
Barbara was the very active and involved CEO of Challenger School until she passed away in 2012 at age 81. Her example continues to inspire employees to achieve Challenger's mission.