Editor’s Note: For this week’s interview, we sat down with Tricia Murphy, owner of Shining Stars Learning Center. We asked her about how she got involved in early childhood education and her plans to relocate this fall from the old Edwards School at 20 East Denver St.
Murphy grew up in Sturbridge, Mass. She is a 1991 graduate of Southbridge High School. In 1996 she graduated from Salem State College with a Bachelor of Arts in art education. She decided to go back to college to take more classes in early childhood education and got certified through North Shore Community College.
Her husband, Michael, is a lieutenant in the Revere Fire Department, where he has worked for 16 years. They have been married for 22 years and have three children: Abagail, 21, a senior at Coastal Carolina University; Molly, 19, a sophomore at the University of Tampa; Michael, 15, who will be a sophomore at Lynnfield High School this fall. Murphy and her family lived in Saugus for 15 years while Shining Stars was just starting out. She was very active in the town’s PTO. Murphy and her family currently reside in Lynnfield.
Some highlights of this week’s interview follow.
Q: When did you first dream about opening up a day care center?
A: I was in school for art history, and one of the courses was elementary art. My mom was an art teacher. I thought that would be a great career. I got a job at a preschool in Marblehead and fell in love with teaching preschool. I started in Marblehead in 1997 and left in 2001, right before I had my first daughter.
Q: How did you wind up in Saugus?
A: We bought my husband’s aunt’s (Grace) house in Saugus on Pearson Street. His uncle, Joe Rapone, was a butcher at the Hilltop for several years. I was on the PTO for the Veterans School for several years. Besides being active with the PTO, I’ve written a few grants for the town. One of the grants was community partnerships for children – collaborating between the private preschool and the public preschool. I worked on a grant for Saugus Coordinated Family Community, making sure that every child had access to early childhood programs. We ran free play groups at the library. I was the coordinator of that for nine years and recently stepped down. I was a wellness committee member under Superintendent David DeRuosi, advocating for early childhood programs.
Q: What’s the origin of the name Shining Stars?
A: I was just trying to come up with a fun name for the school. I brainstormed with my mother and mother-in-law. I always loved the shape of the star, so I thought “Shining Stars” would be a fun name.
I started out with our yellow stars, because yellow has always been my favorite color. I had four stars in the original logo. After all three of my children were born, I revamped the logo with one star for each child: pink, purple and green stars. Those were the favorite colors of my children. Pink was Abby’s favorite color and still is. Molly’s favorite color was purple, but it’s not any longer. And my son Michael’s favorite color is green.
Q: You’ve always had four stars in your logo?
A: It’s a happy coincidence. Once I realized we were done having children, it dawned on me that we could add some color to the logo. It just popped into my head that we could have one colored star to represent each child.
Q: Where did Shining Stars start out?
A: We had a home day care center for one year in my house in Saugus. We had six children. My very first child is my best friend’s son. They knew that I wanted to start a school, and they used to say, “If you build it, they will come.” Knowing that I wanted to go out of the house, we went to 10 students. And that’s when I brought in two former coworkers from the Marblehead Day Care Center. When I left the Marblehead center, I told my two friends that I was going to start my own child day care center and that I would like them to come work with me – and they did.
Q: What is your anniversary date for the day care center?
A: Sept. 17, 2001. I get flowers every year on that day from the very first student. He later worked for me. He’s a senior at Elon, North Carolina – Max Pegnato, of Swampscott. He was with us for two summers.
Q: What is the enrollment of Shining Stars?
A: 160 kids for the summer, and once school starts, it’s 130. Most of our students are part-time. Some come two days or three days. Some come five days.
Q: You’ve been at the Edwards School for 17 years. Why the relocation to Cliftondale?
A: We have been searching for a building to purchase for a very long time. The property needed to be big enough for our program and would also allow for parking and a playground. The building in Cliftondale has all of that with unique interior architecture.
There is a lot of work to be done. First on the agenda is to remove all of the built-in safes and the vault door. Classrooms will be on the main floor, in the full basement and we will use the mezzanine as well. The building is flooded with sunlight, and we plan on transforming the interior into a cheerful and welcoming place.
Last fall when I noticed the building was empty, I inquired about its future, thinking it would make a beautiful school for us. At that time, there were no plans to sell it. As soon as we saw it was being sold, we jumped.
Q: When is the move to Cliftondale?
A: My hope is that probably by the end of September or early October, we’ll slowly move over here and then get it done on a weekend.
Q: What will it take to make the building ready so you can move in here?
A: We’re taking out the safes, putting in some partial walls, remodeling the bathrooms, replacing flooring and building a park and playground in the back.
Q: What will the park be like?
A: Big enough for about 30 children – about 2,500 square feet – with a playground-appropriate surface.
Q: Anything else special about this playground?
A: We had a student of ours pass away on June 9, 2014; Liam Jaynes died in a car accident in Saugus. Liam was three years old. We’re going to call the playground Liam’s Play Station.
And every year we do “a random acts of kindness day.” We have little cards we pass out – little things like holding the door open or buying a cup of coffee for the person behind you. We do it every year on Liam’s “angel anniversary.” The whole Shining Stars community – all of the families and friends – are involved.
Q: Are most of your students from Saugus?
A: A majority of them are. Saugus teachers bring their children to us. And we have a lot of kids from Revere.
Q: What makes Shining Stars unique and special?
A: I honestly believe it has to do with the staff we have: It’s not just a career for them; it’s a passion. And we have a philosophy – treat every child the way you would want your child treated – it’s a philosophy that all of the staff owns. The staff just feels like one big family. That kind of attitude makes it a loveable community. We don’t have a lot of turnover in staff. Our staff is there for years and years.
I run the program. I’m the leader of the program. But my one true gift is choosing the right people to run it. I choose them in the interviewing process by asking myself if I would want my child in their classroom. This is the kind of loving care that is instinctual rather than taught.
Q: What’s the capacity of the new building? How many kids can you accommodate?
A: About 95.
Q: What’s the best thing about this new building you’re moving into?
A: We own it, so we can do anything we want with it. I love the beams and the huge windows. And a big thing is we spent 18 years in a building without air conditioning. The Evans School doesn’t have air conditioning. So, it will be very nice next summer. Right now at the Evans, we have lots of fans and windows opened.
Q: So, what’s your ultimate goal?
A: I’d like to see my grandchildren here one day and see staff members be able to bring their grandchildren here, too; but I’d like to be a long time away from grandchildren.
Q: Anything else that you would like to share?
A: I’m very grateful for the career that I’ve had and the relationships and connections I’ve made. My coworkers are my best friends. And I’ve made great friends with families I’ve come across. I’m grateful for social media because I get to see where life takes past staff members and the accomplishments of the children who have come through the center. We have so many former students who have become staff members and former staff members who now bring their children to us.