Debra Kirchen, our NJMOMpreneur of the week, knew from the second year that she wanted to become a teacher and spent a large part of her adult life teaching. But all the while, she wanted to expand beyond the classroom to enrich students and bring learning to life. So in 2010, she went on her own and opened Teacher Tutors connecting K-12 students with seasoned teachers for private tutoring, academic coaching, and counseling across the board. northern New Jersey. At the same time, she ran after-school enrichment programs at elementary schools in Livingston, which eventually led to her opening her own enrichment program, the Brainiax Innovative Learning Center, offering robotics classes and programs based on STEAM, kindergarten preparation workshops and private lessons. events. We interviewed this Livingston-based mother of two to talk about how she knew she wanted to work in education, where her love for pitbulls came from and the local hiking spots where she and her family came from. will disconnect.
Tell us a bit about yourself and your family.
My husband Yarin and I have been married for 11 years. We have two boys, Daniel (8) and Josh (5). We live in Livingston and moved here for the excellent school system and the ease of getting to New York. We welcome pit bulls and other dogs, and because of that our neighbors know us quite well. I always knew I was meant to be a mom, but it was a tough road to have my babies – I lost a pregnancy at 6 months, and it ultimately took me 8 pregnancies to have my two beautiful boys. After this first loss, however, I came across a dog that needed to be cared for, fed and ultimately adopted. She was rescued from a fighting ring when she was about 9 months old, and she was the sweetest, sweetest dog I have ever met. I swear she saved me as much as I saved her. She is 11 now. This experience got me hooked and now saving shelter dogs is one of my passions.
Tell us a bit about your professional background and how your past experiences come into play in running your own business?
Mr. McFarren was my 2nd grade science teacher and he had an intense and infectious love for the subject. He was so inspiring, and it was because of him that I fell in love with learning and teaching. Fast forward to high school and I volunteered to teach a child with special needs Spanish, working one-on-one with them during my elective class. I also taught confirmation classes at my local synagogue and got my substitute teacher license after high school. After graduating from New York University with my Masters in Education, I was offered very prestigious teaching positions in private schools. Still, I ended up accepting a teaching position for 3rd instead in the South Bronx. I chose this because I have always lived in nice neighborhoods with great schools, and felt that I would serve a greater good by teaching in a neighborhood where the needs are greater. In this school, I had to learn to be resourceful and creative, and that had a significant impact on me. Eventually my principal asked me to coach other teachers in a leadership role, and this experience helped me realize that I could go beyond the classroom to reach more children.
How has the pandemic affected your business?
In 2009, I caught swine flu from a student and was quarantined in a hospital for a week. As such, I have a very healthy respect for viruses and knew I had to do everything possible to keep our students, educators and staff safe during the pandemic. Luckily my tutoring business paid the rent and we were able to run free online enrichment programs to engage and help kids socialize during the after school hours. Because we’ve always offered one-to-one online lessons in inclement weather, our instructors are tech-savvy and able to teach engaging online. So we haven’t gone through a learning curve like so many other companies. With the two companies, there has been a mix of how families are approaching the pandemic, but I have been able to satisfy most by offering a mix of different solutions like online sessions, small groups with private lessons in someone’s yard or at their home, and small groups in the center with multiple air purifiers and other settings. With the Delta variant we are now as prepared as possible and moving forward cautiously, but I think we are ready to deal with whatever comes our way so that we can be there for our students and give them the support they want. need.
How to reset after a particularly difficult day?
I have several ways to help me relax. A nice long walk with Sky, our foster dog (or dogs if we have a foster family at the time), usually does the trick. And although I’m not the best cook, I love to cook with my kids. My oldest son says he wants to be a chef, so I love to help feed that, and it’s a good thing that we do together. We have recently mastered risotto and we want to push ourselves to try new recipes as well. And then, once the kids are asleep, Netflix gets the job done!
What would you like to know about being an entrepreneur before starting your business?
I would love to know how much work it is when you own your own business – you sleep, breathe and think about it all the time. I still would have continued on this path knowing this, but I would have been prepared. I recently joined BIG, an entrepreneurial networking group for women, and I am excited to continue to learn from this group of remarkable women.
What are some of your favorite local NJ businesses?
I do my best to support the locals, and Love Letters is my go-to for all of my gifts. They have the best selection of gifts, candies, and novelty items, many of which can be personalized. My neighbors Pat and Jeanette own the store, and they are the nicest people I know. In addition, as a family, we like to dine there and we often go to Ikes on weekends for a delicious breakfast. We also love The Twisted Tulip, which has the best coffee and gluten-free muffins, and Seymour’s Cafe, a lunch with amazing “make your own” salads and fresh juices. I like it so much that I could eat there every day!
What are your favorite things to do in NJ with your family?
Maplewood Dog Park never disappoints. And hiking and camping help us focus. We usually head to Eagle Rock, South Mountain, or the Watchung Preserve, but we also hike many New York trails. In addition, a few times a year we go to Alstede Farms because the children love to feed and watch the animals and see where our fruits and vegetables come from. We are members of Livingston CSA and receive farm fresh food once a week. We have a lot of fun figuring out what to do with whatever we receive.
What words of wisdom do you have for other NJMOMpreneurs?
Owning a business takes a lot of energy, persistence, and courage, so if you want to get into entrepreneurship you have to be passionate about what you do.
For more information on Debra Kirchen, Teacher Tutors and Brainiax, please see The Teacher Tutors website, Facebook, Instagram and Brainiax website, Facebook and Instagram pages.
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