JRA TRADITIONS: The Story Behind JRA
By: Julie Rohr McHugh, Director
One day I got a call from Mom who greeted me with, “Guess what we bought you today?” I was about to guess a new dress when Mom preempted my answer, “…a school!”
Julie Rohr Academy has an interesting and unique history. Even though the school opened in 1974, we must go much further back in time to understand JRA’s roots.
Additionally, I wanted to give them the opportunity to perform so that they could develop their individual talents in art, music, dance, physical education, public speaking and all of the performing arts.
The philosophy of Julie Rohr Petite Academy was being developed on a fast track. Seventeen children soon became fifty, then one hundred, then one hundred fifty, two hundred, and finally, two hundred seventy-five students. As the children grew, we began adding a new grade each year until we reached the 8th grade. The Petite was dropped as the children grew bigger!
While our JRA family grew, Mike’s and mine did as well – from two to five. Matthew, our number three, was born in 1978, followed by Martin, son number four, in 1984. Then in 1987, our only daughter, Meaghan, was born. Meaghan had Down Syndrome, and we all worked very hard to overcome her physical difficulties. Our JRA family was so supportive during those first few years of her life.
Things were going beautifully until the summer of 1990 when Meaghan was diagnosed as having a rare and deadly type of Leukemia. We battled the disease for nearly a year. Finally, the doctors told us the only hope she had was a bone marrow transplant. Our son Matthew was to be the donor. Within days of the transplant, Meaghan developed overwhelming infections. She died on June 26, 1991.
Meaghan’s death was devastating to our family. Martin was only six and desperately wanted a younger brother or sister. We decided to adopt, fearful of having another biological child who might have the same problems. On October 23, 1992, Mitchell was born. Our family was thrilled with our new addition!
On November 7, 1998, on Meaghan’s birthday, Mitchell was diagnosed with leukemia. He also had a five-pound tumor in his chest. We were shocked that this could happen to our family again. Thankfully, after two years of chemotherapy and many terrifying moments, Mitchell was happy and healthy once again.
I feel the gift Meaghan gave us was to show us how precious life is and how every moment should be lived to the fullest. This gift carries on each day at JRA. Each precious life is nurtured and developed to the maximum potential they have in the most personalized development program that a structured environment can provide. Our teachers work here because they love to work here. They don’t last if they don’t. When you watch them love and work with your children, you’ll see what I mean.
How have we done since setting those lofty goals many years ago? We’ve stood fast to our goal list in providing the type of learning environment I wanted to establish. Many things are exactly the same as they were when we started, yet every year we strive to be even better.
Change is inevitable. It is also an important part of education and an integral part of life. We recognize the need for new and innovative techniques and are constantly striving to make the best use of new information and trends in education.
However, we never want to lose sight of why we began – to provide a nurturing and loving family environment where children can feel secure, happy, and successful. Though all five sons have graduated JRA, they have all worked here in various capacities. Middle son Matthew is now our full-time business manager. Martin, number four, is currently our 5th through 8th grade math teacher. Mitchell works after school and during vacations. Mark has recently moved back to Sarasota and is assisting us with financial planning. Our oldest son Michael lives in Japan but plans to return to work at JRA someday.
Julie Rohr Academy has always been what I wanted in a school, and I am a very demanding mother in what I want for my children! I now have the unique opportunity to “start all over again” with my grandchildren. One grandchild already attends JRA and my one-year old Sienna will begin in January. I couldn’t be happier!
Julie and Arthur Rohr met in college where they were both earning degrees in music education. They graduated, married,and began their teaching careers in Kannapolis, North Carolina. I was born six years later.
Growing up in a home with teachers who had friends that were teachers contributed to my wanting to be – what else? A teacher! So when I graduated from Riverview High School, I went to the University of Miami where I received my Bachelor of Music Education and Master of Music degrees.
While in college, I had many opportunities to perform in overseas U.S.O. tours, the Jackie Gleason Show, the Ed Sullivan Show, Orange Bowl Parades, commercials and local shows on Miami Beach. I developed a love for performance and thought it might be fun to do as a career. But then I fell in love and found something I wanted more – a husband!
I met Mike when he was finishing his Master’s Degree at the University of Miami. It was the proverbial “love at first sight,” and we were married five months later. We then settled down and began teaching together in Broward County. Four years later, our first son, Michael, was born.
Mom and Dad had a hard enough time living 200 miles away from their only child, but now they had a grandson they were determined to watch grow up. One day I got a call from Mom who greeted me with, “Guess what we bought you today?” I was about to guess a new dress when Mom preempted my answer, “…a school!”
A dress would have been nice. A car would have been more than appreciated. A new house would have been something to be marveled at. But a school?! This really didn’t fit with our plans for the future. After all, we were very happy in Ft. Lauderdale, and the thought of moving didn’t exactly thrill us. But we decided to come home for a visit and see this school.
Now if you’ve ever had your heart leap from your chest into your throat and then collapse into your stomach with that sinking lump, you have a rough idea of the impact a highly dilapidated pre-school with seventeen children and an overgrown front yard had on me. It looked like the place hadn’t seen a paintbrush, broom, or mop in decades.
I found myself wondering if my parents had lost their minds. We told them in no uncertain terms that this was not for us, and we went back to Ft. Lauderdale, leaving behind two very unhappy parents. Obviously, our vision didn’t match theirs.
Mom and Dad found themselves running a day-care center. They painted it. They cleaned it up. They hired several nice and talented teachers to teach the seventeen children. They reminded me weekly that they were running my school for me until we moved back. “They had no idea just how long they were going to be running a day-care,” I thought to myself.
Then things changed. Mike and I had our second son, Mark. I took a year’s leave of absence from my teaching job to stay at home with my two children. When the time came for me to go back, I looked for a school to put them in. I didn’t like what I saw!
Young children at the highest learning capacity time of their lives were herded through a day without challenge and without a single learning experience except that which Sesame Street accomplished during the endless time the TV was on. Young children at the highest personality development time of their lives were no more than little sheep led from meal to nap to potty to TV to snack to nap to potty to clean-up to go home. Young children at the most crucial point of talent development were discouraged from making noises such as singing, dancing, playing instruments, participating in story reenactment and generally anything else that exceeded the bounds of the desired standard norm – “Johnny should be seen and not heard!”
Suddenly, Julie Rohr Petite Academy, as it was called then, was looking a whole lot better! It was time for me to correct what I detested or to condone it by inaction. So after long conversations, Mike and I decided that we would move to Sarasota and I would take over as director of the school if Mike could find a teaching position. He did.
In July, 1974, we made the 200 mile move from Ft. Lauderdale to Sarasota – a perfectly happy life behind for new challenges and new opportunities that lay ahead. And foremost among these challenges and opportunities was JRPA. I immediately decided that Julie Rohr Petite Academy was going to have all the things I looked for in a pre-school for my own sons in Ft. Lauderdale but was unable to find.
I wanted my children to have a warm, loving environment where their needs would be met by people who truly cared about them, their learning, and their needs, not just for the convenience of the moment, but for the foundations of a lifetime. I wanted them to have the opportunity at an early age to learn academic skills in language arts, reading, math and science to establish a foundation for their future learning experiences. I wanted them to be challenged to their capacity but not frustrated by a lack of success. Therefore, highly skilled, patient, and loving teachers needed to be recruited.