If You Build It ...

Combine a natural talent for art, a relentless passion for teaching children and a fearless, can-do attitude for creating something out of nothing  and you have just described Brianne Bongiovanni, founder of Bambini Creativi Early Learning Educational Project.

Creativity was something always encouraged by Bongiovanni’s mother, and became the impetus behind a vision that would evolve in many directions.

“As I child, I was constantly asking my mother to buy me one thing or another while we were out shopping, and she always responded the same way by saying ‘we can build it when we get home,’” says Bongiovanni, who is quick to point out the importance of her mother’s statement. Little did she know at the time that these words would help to lay the foundation for what would later become Bongiovanni’s dream — a progressive preschool in the heart of Kansas City.

Pursuing a degree from the Kansas City Art Institute was a natural starting point on Bongiovanni’s career path, but she quickly found her love for art was matched by her desire to teach young children.

Quenching her creative thirst eventually led her to Chicago, where she studied improvisation at Second City, the theatrical school that launched many Saturday Night Live alumni to instant fame. During that time, Bongiovanni worked part-time designing exhibits at Chicago’s Children’s Museum. It was there that she learned of an early childhood educational teaching style that had originated from Reggio, Italy, known as the Reggio Emilia Approach.

This progressive preschool method intrigued her so much that she took a turn straight out of the book “Eat Pray Love” and moved to northern Italy to learn more. Once there, she parlayed her English speaking skills into a symbiotic relationship that allowed her to witness this system firsthand.

Four years later she returned to the states with not only a husband, but also a vision to bring the school concept to her own hometown.

“My grandfather owned some land out south that he was willing to let me build on, but because we were in the midst of the country’s economic downturn, it seemed like a pipe dream,” says Bongiovanni. “I knew if it was going to happen, I needed to think outside the box and create some interest and excitement.”

Using the skills she had learned while studying at Second City, Bongiovanni improvised. She orchestrated an exhibit during a First Friday event in the Crossroads District of Kansas City, hoping to find investors who were willing to take a chance on her school. She even pitched an idea to the producers of a new reality show “America’s Next Great Restaurant,” featuring chefs Bobby Flay and Curtis Stone, about a café where children could interact in the process, hoping to generate interest in the Reggio Emilia notion of children as co-creators.

Just when it seemed as if her dream was out of reach, the impossible happened: a building that was near her grandfather’s property (matching Bongiovanni’s architectural design and size requirements to a T) suddenly became available. When the family came together in financial support of her effort, Bongiovanni found herself reflecting on the irony of her mother’s words — “we can build it when we get home.”

And so they did, importing everything they needed from Italy to make it the first truly Reggio-inspired school in the area.

The school, located at 135th and Holmes in Kansas City, Mo., has just completed its first full school year, and Bongiovanni’s dream is now generating major interest. So much interest, in fact, that her online virtual tour of Bambini Creativi has logged more than 20,000 views from 135 different countries around the world.

“My desire has always been to promote the potential of each child in an environment that allows children to test their own theories and construct the way they learn,” says Bongiovanni. “If children are given control over the direction of their own learning, they will find endless ways and opportunities to express themselves.”

And Bongiovanni is just the one to teach them how.