By Genonia Petra
Education was always a major focus for me when I was growing up in Romania. After I moved to Canada, I worked as a teacher. It seemed like a good fit, but once I had heard about my students’ additional success with the Kumon after-school math and reading program, I realized an even better fit would be to sign on as a franchisee, which I did by opening my own centre on Toronto’s Danforth Avenue.
A background in education
I was born in Romania and lived there until I was 26. My immediate family was small—I have one sibling, my sister Angelica, who has gone on to become a Kumon franchisee, too—but we had lots of cousins.
I was brought up in a communist society and my interests were limited to what was available. I would say my biggest hobby was reading. I did well in school in languages, maths and sciences.
I was allowed to ‘dream’ until Grade 10, at which point I had to write a killer entrance exam. That meant a lot of studying when I was 15 and 16. I focused on sciences, including physics.
My efforts paid off and in 1989, at the age of 18, I went to university, where I studied for five years to get my teaching degree. I wanted to work as a chemistry teacher, but with all of the bureaucracy in Romania, I could not find a job anywhere. It was so hard.
Discovering Canada and Kumon
Shortly after graduating from university, I fell in love. I married my husband, Adrian, in 1998. He wanted to move to Toronto for greater opportunities and I followed him in 1999.
I know I was young and saw everything with rose-coloured glasses, but Canada really did offer us an open door and I embraced that opportunity. I felt I would have more chances to do what I wanted to here.
And as it turned out, my skills helped a lot when I looked for work. I started teaching math and science at a private school in nearby Richmond Hill, Ont., in 2000. That was where I learned some of the students in my class had gone to Kumon. I witnessed the benefits first-hand and the results really impressed me.
Toru Kumon, a high school teacher, established the Kumon Institute of Mathematics in Osaka, Japan, in 1958, after finding success with his innovative method, which involved assessing students’ abilities before giving them special worksheets that allowed them to gain practice in—and increase their confidence with—their math and reading abilities. The institute drew 300 students in its first year. Expansion began in 1962 with the addition of a Tokyo location.
In 1974, Kumon’s founder wrote a book about the aims and theory behind his teaching method, including concrete examples of how the instruction had proven effective. In response, the company was flooded with inquiries. From there, the brand spread around the world, bringing the Kumon method to millions of children. It reached Canada in 1988.
Based on my own experience as a teacher, I saw a niche opportunity with the franchise system, where I would be able to own and run a business in the educational sector. Adrian and I moved in 2003 from Toronto to Markham, Ont., where our son Nicolas was born that same year. Shortly after I began my maternity leave, I started applying to Kumon North America to become a franchisee.