Yellow Brick Road Early Childhood Development Center offers children a safe place to learn, explore, and grow. Its childcare centers, located in Minnesota, Nebraska, and Iowa, are operated more like schools and less like daycare. They provide children with an environment where they can build a foundation for their academics, learn new skills, and develop a love for learning. Yellow Brick Road aims to put “really good humans” into the world. And it strives to achieve that by ensuring that the children are well cared for, educated, and having fun while developing their love for learning.
“Intentional” is how Yellow Brick Road operates. It does everything within its premises with intention. It intentionally plans everything to the tiniest detail, including planning activities and creating the environment to meet its goals.
“We care about the children as a whole,” Jessica Johnsen, CEO and President of Yellow Brick Road, says. “We want them to leave our doors loving to learn and knowing how to regulate their emotions.”
Teachers working at Yellow Brick Road are well-paid and receive several benefits. It is because of its belief that “happy teachers create happy children.” And, as a company, Yellow Brick Road prioritizes spending to make sure its environment is of high quality but still affordable to young families.
The success that the company enjoys today is largely due to its people. Yellow Brick Road hires the best and offers them training, and they flourish under the company’s leadership team, who are second to none.
6 Core Values
Collaboration, communication, innovation, positivity, nurturing, and fun are the six core values of Yellow Brick Road. The values emphasize team spirit, transparent two-way communication, support for new ideas, nurturing of bonds and relationships, a positive, solution-based mindset, and a fun learning environment.
There is no place for “I” in team, development, learning, teaching, and even parents. Jessica points out that they believe in the adage that it takes a village to raise a child. Teachers often see things that parents may fail to see at home, and vice versa. For example, children’s developmental milestones are likely to be more visible to parents. Yellow Brick Road works with parents and teachers to make sure that each child’s development is full circle. “Our collaboration doesn’t stop there,” Jessica says. “Yellow Bridge Road works together with our teachers to constantly improve quality and make each day better than the last.”
Yellow Bridge Road believes in two-way communication. They use a daily communication app to offer parents live updates about their child(ren) throughout the day. They do their best to give them as much notice as possible for center events, teacher changes, and other important information. Jessica says they not only tell parents what they are doing but also inform them “WHY” they are doing it.
Yellow Bridge Road has values rooted in years of best practices but are always open to new ideas. The world is changing fast, but the basics are still the best, notes Jessica. Yellow Brick Road do not follow all the trends. They try to determine which trends to follow and which to ignore.
The company is always open to new research and new ideas, but they never chase ‘the next best thing.’ They take pride in never doing things because ‘that’s the way we’ve always done them.’ Yellow Brick Road loves to receive feedback and encourages parents to offer their advice and ideas.
As Yellow Brick Road loves children and staff, it handles everyone with accountability rooted in grace and gentleness. Jessica says that they promise to nurture everyone where they are in the present.
She also points out that development is about scaffolding and growth, not being the same as one’s peers. Jessica and her team seek to understand every human they come in contact with, whether a child or adult. They make sure to nurture their bonds and relationships, which enables them to stimulate a love for learning and make each day better than the last, more skillful, knowledgeable, safe, and personally secure.
Jessica highlights that they do not have time for negativity – “we are too busy growing the future!” Under her leadership, they believe in identifying what is going right instead of what is going wrong. This, however, does not mean they turn a blind eye if something needs to be changed or fixed. “We just handle it with a solution-based mindset,” Jessica says.
As Yellow Brick Road is part of a human-based industry, serving the littlest beings, it understands that things will never be perfect, but it is possible to handle everything with a smile. “We make decisions and move forward,” Jessica points out. “We do not hold grudges and look for ways to set up success. We don’t HAVE to be here; we GET to be here.”
Fun is embedded in the culture of Yellow Brick Road. They allow silliness, hugs, and snuggles, organize dance parties and pajama Fridays, and create an atmosphere where jokes and made-up songs are applauded. Yellow Brick Road believes that learning is better while giggling. They, therefore, fosters the best environment that allows children to cut loose and learn. They want the children to want to be there. “We believe that indoor and outdoor learning environments belong to the child, but are kept safe by the adults, so everyone gets to have fun while laying the path to life, one yellow brick at a time,” says Jessica.
Turning Around a Struggling Business
Jessica joined Yellow Brick Road in June of 2019 – at a time when it was struggling financially. She agreed to helm it because she believed in its mission. Jessica worked with then, Regional Director Kylie Schrader, now the COO, side by side and turned the company into a sustainable business that offers high-quality care to children at an affordable rate.
Operating childcare is a difficult job, and operating a “financially drowning childcare” can be the scariest thing in the world. The reason Jessica joined the company was that she saw that a culture change was exactly what the company needed. “I owed it to the staff and to Kylie to take a leap of faith,” she says.
Jessica did not realize how bad things were until about a month in. The culture was not great, and turnover was high. Jessica recalls that people would call and threaten to stop bringing food, turn off the internet, and even the lights. “It was hard work on behalf of the leadership team to get this turned around,” she says.
Gradually, Jessica began to change things at the company. She showed the staff that the leadership team really cared about them, increased communication, and worked alongside the team to make sure they knew that leadership was on their side. Jessica also decided to amp up their marketing to highlight the amazing work their team did.
Yellow Brick Road started to grow during the COVID-19 pandemic. When the pandemic hit the world, Jessica and her team noted that many people began exiting the industry. They, however, decided to keep childcare alive and of high quality.
Jessica considers the pandemic as a turning point for the company. “The work we did during covid for our families and our staff, THAT was the turning point for us,” she says. Jessica and her team stood up and said “We are here for you. We are here to make sure your children are safe, and we will make our environments as normal as physically possible.” Yellow Brick Road also did not lay off or furlough a single staff member.
Yellow Brick Road has grown exponentially in the past 2 years. Jessica points out that it is more of an opportunity than anything else. They see a need they can fill, the people they can impact, and they go for it. They also try and make transitions as smooth as possible for everyone.
“We let our leaders lead and our teachers teach,” Jessica says. “Everyone works together and everyone works. We have accountability within the company, and we hold each other accountable.”
In 2019, Yellow Brick Road had 4 schools and now has 21 schools under its umbrella.
Running Schools During Pandemic
Jessica and her team had just started to pay the bills of Yellow Brick Road when the pandemic hit. For her, the biggest pride point during the pandemic was not laying off or furloughing a single employee.
Jessica recalls that Kylie and she sat down one day and said, “If we close, we won’t reopen. We can’t close. We can’t risk our employees not eating or paying bills.” So, they dug their heals in and innovated every single day. They worked around the clock to keep the team motivated and the children safe.
“I’ve never pivoted so much in my life,” says Jessica. It was something new every day and a new direction each week, but they did it. They made it through, and they are a stronger team because of it.
“Getting back to pre-covid numbers so quickly during the pandemic was a celebration amongst our team I won’t forget,” says Jessica.
Supportive of Competition
Unlike other organizations, Yellow Brick Road is “tremendously” supportive of its competition. Jessica points out that it is a tough industry, and everyone is in this together. The leadership team is what makes Yellow Brick Road stand out in the midst of strong competition. The dedication they have to the success of every child and employee is second to none. They try to be better leaders by reading books and striving to learn and grow each day. They are able to set an example for others because they never shy away from admitting mistakes publicly.
Yellow Brick Road is also competently priced, and it pays its teachers well. It also helps its employees reach their personal goals. For example, two of its former employees, AJ and Ronnie, have even started their own sports clinic, Mini Me Sports.
In order to increase morale and build culture, Yellow Brick Road is constantly adopting innovative ideas, which also makes it different from its competitors. The company allows its teachers to be creative with the curriculum so that it could meet the kids where they are – not where the adults think they should be. Also, Yellow Brick Road believes in outdoor learning. “I grew up on a farm and remember a lot of my own learning happened outside,” Jessica says. “Most of all, we have FUN. It’s a core value.”
The Motivator Factor
For Yellow Brick Road’s team, the motivating factor is that everyone cares about each other as human beings. Jessica says that they want each other to succeed in every aspect of life, not just work. She and her team offer parenting advice, go to birthday parties, watch kids sporting events, or just cheer each other on in general. “We have FUN. We make TikTok and do challenges, and have fun outings,” Jessica says. “Teams that play together, stay together.”
Jessica also says that they “genuinely believe” that if staff are happy, children and parents will be happy. So, they take all feedback into account. They also regularly talk with the leadership team and teachers. “We believe we hear about almost all issues, but we stick to our policies,” Jessica says. “We rarely make exceptions or allow customers to mistreat our team.”
Jessica has enlisted the help of dedicated people for her staff who check in with customers regularly, to prevent any issues. Yellow Brick Road also trains and retrains when there are issues.
Professional Success is the Goal
Jessica believes that success means “doing well by your mission and by your people.” She points out that success looks different to every person; for her, being professionally successful has always been a goal. Success means providing quality employment for an industry that deserves so much more respect than it gets. When children see successful businesspeople within their learning environment, they are inspired, notes Jessica.
She also thinks that work ethics and being fulfilled within one’s personal mission are modeled for children at a young age, and she fears that many adults spend too much time complaining about the hours they work instead of the hours they get to contribute to their cause.
As she grew up watching her mom be successful and happy in her career, Jessica has always wanted to model that. “My ‘Why’ has always been for early childhood professionals to get the respect they deserve, be deserving of the respect they get, and for children to reap the benefits of that,” she says.
“Success for ALL” is the force that drives all of Yellow Brick Road’s decisions. The company wants children, families, and staff to be successful – no matter what! “We may not be the most successful environment for every single child, family, or employee, so it’s important to recognize that and be transparent,” Jessica says. “No single person’s success is greater than the whole, not even my own. That drives me each and every day.”
What Is Next?
Each day, Yellow Brick Road’s staff performs work that can directly impact the future of society. So, the continued growth of her team is one of Jessica’s visions. She also wants to take on new schools and challenges.
Jessica believes that there is room for everyone to grow and not ever hit a ceiling. So, creating more employment opportunities is also part of her future plans. “The more strong and smart leaders we have, the more the children benefit from an amazing organization,” she says. She also intends to grow their other brands within the greater Minneapolis, Des Moines, and Omaha areas.
“The greatest impact we can have on the way of our society and our world, is to inspire others and teach the future,” says Jessica.