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Helping students reach their prime

Teachers Julie Robinson and Sara Hartman renovated old space to house Prime Time Learning Academy. (photos by Eric Hawkinson)

By Eric Hawkinson
North Liberty Leader
NORTH LIBERTY– Learning geography has never tasted so good at the Prime Time Learning Academy in North Liberty. After one student’s suggestion, classes have been constructing maps using sugar cookie dough.
“I think another real beauty of it is that there’s enough freedom, because we don’t have a set curriculum we are responsible for teaching,” said Prime Time owner Julie Robinson. “It’s a win for the kid to see grownups actually took his idea and made it into a lesson that everybody did.”
The Prime Time Learning Academy, 70 Circle Dr., Suite D, North Liberty, opened in its new location on June 11. Previously, Prime Time was held at Robinson’s home in rural North Liberty. Robinson has served as both a teacher and the principal of Penn Elementary School in North Liberty. With the help of Prime Time partner Sara Hartman, family members, and restore foundations such as Habitat for Humanity, the academy was modified from a vacant spot in Cherry Creek Plaza into a magical education facility.
“We really wanted a place that was very warm, very welcoming, and had a stimulating environment– a place where parents could be comfortable waiting for their kids,” Robinson said. The two educators wanted parents and children to feel as if the space belonged to them.
Robinson and Hartman’s vision for the center is to provide a place for children to receive hands-on learning from certified teachers, who work to foster creative learning through interactive and intimate lessons.
“It’s not a factory,” Robinson said. She admits she wants the business to grow, but never too large to inhibit the intimate atmosphere. Hartman agreed.
“We want to keep that luxury of being able to interact,” Hartman said.
Both teachers have 20-plus years of experience, and served in the Iowa City Community School District. Robinson also taught classes in Children’s Literature and Reading at the University of Iowa, while Hartman is an accomplished crafter who has sold her work at various shops and shows. Between the two, Prime Time is a careful balance between creativity and education.
“It’s a fun way of leaning, an interesting way to learn,” Hartman said. “It’s fun to be creative because we’re both really creative-type people, and it helps bring more enjoyment here.”
Much collaboration between the two went into the creation and conception of the new location. They took and old space, which used to be a bakery, and converted it into a place of learning. The restoration process took a couple months, beginning when they acquired the location in April 2013.
It may look unassuming on the outside, but Prime Time’s interior is especially charming. The front room has a lovely converted library space, which directly faces a wall of toys both old and new. Robinson said she is pleased she now has a spot for all her vintage toys. The back rooms open up to classroom area, fit with quaint wooden sectionals, an iPad station, activity space and a kitchen area.
For the teachers, the space is only a means to an end. All of the work they put into completing the new Prime Time Learning Academy was for one major purpose– to help children develop their minds, and to make sure learning is cool.
“We’re just trying to fill a need for families, fill a need for kids, and do it in a way so they don’t say, ‘oh no, do I have to go and do that?” Robinson said.