In this second of our ten-essay series by parents of students at public schools Uptown, Anna Derby and Rodolfo Machirica write about their children’s experience at John W. Hoffman Early Learning Center. Uptown, like New Orleans as a whole, has many public school options for families—from college preparatory schools, to three different language immersion programs, to a Montessori program, to a technology career pathway school. In this series, we hear from parents themselves on why their child’s school is right for them.


Anna Derby & Rodolfo Machirica, parents

Diversity, Community, and Warmth at Hoffman

By Anna Derby & Rodolfo Machirica

We have two young children: Gabriel is three years old, and Elijah is four months. Both as educators and as parents, we care deeply about where we send our kids to school, and we know these early years matter. That’s why we send them both to John W. Hoffman Early Learning Center, which serves infants through pre-K4.

We heard about Hoffman Early Learning Center from other educators. Anna was working at New Orleans Charter Science & Math High School at the time, and the former principal there recommended it. From everything we heard, it was a place where people felt great sending their kids, and we wanted to feel the same way. We wanted it to feel like home. It has. It was a great fit for us.

Right away, when Gabe started at Hoffman, we sensed a real environment of joy. We noticed that everyone was on the same page and definitely cared about what they were doing. That was expressed by everyone from the executive director, to the teachers, to the support staff. The whole atmosphere was just bright and joyful.

When we would go to pick Gabe up, we saw early on that all the teachers knew his name, even if they didn’t teach him. And it wasn’t just Gabe; they knew all the kids’ names. As parents, they would greet us very effusively, too. Later on, after Elijah was born and we brought him to pick-up, everyone wanted to know him, too. They would ask about him, check up on him, and were excited to teach him. It can be hard to send your child off to school, but it eases our anxieties to walk into a place that feels like family.

One thing we love about Hoffman is its emphasis on diversity—the idea that people of all different backgrounds can be connected for learning and growing. That is important to us in particular because as a family, we don’t all look the same. We want our children to grow up in an environment that fits with the reality of our world, which is diverse.

Hoffman also focuses on social and emotional development. Playing is learning for young children, and Hoffman allows them to play. The staff also works with students on skills like conflict resolution and relationship building.

That environment and philosophy is why Roldofo eventually started working at Hoffman, too. Today, he teaches students in pre-k there. He gets to help children develop and grow, just like other teachers are helping our children develop and grow.

We see the results of our children’s learning at Hoffman all the time. One recent example was when we brought Gabe to meet a large group of Rodolfo’s family members. He was really excited, and they were really excited to see him. But it ended up being overwhelming because the group was so big. Instead of crying, which he might have done before, he simply said, “I think I need a little space right now.” He was regulating his own emotions and naming what he needed. He took a little break, and then he was able to go back to getting to know his family and having a wonderful time.

That’s the key of learning at this stage. Academics are important, and they’re getting literacy and numeracy through counting and reading. But primarily, the focus is on problem-solving, navigating social environments, and managing emotions and self-expression. We really value that Hoffman makes it a priority, and we see it make a difference in moments like that for Gabe.

Hoffman also nurtures our children’s health in mind and body alike. Gabe gets to go outside all the time at school. Hoffman believes firmly that children should get to be outdoors, so they’ve built and decorated a welcoming play area. The kids can go and run around, and they have special events there like water days and soccer games. It keeps them healthy and happy to be in that space.

We feel lucky to get to send Gabe and Elijah to Hoffman. As they grow, we know Hoffman will be there for them through their ups and downs, their mistakes and their successes. All the while, our boys will know they are cared for, supported, and loved, both at home and at school.

John W. Hoffman Early Learning Center educates infants – pre-K4 at 2622 S. Prieur Street. Enrollment for the 2020-2021 school year for Hoffman and nearly all New Orleans early learning centers and public schools opens this fall through EnrollNOLA. You can find out more information at or call or visit a Family Resource Center.

The New Orleans Uptown Public School Series is brought to you by New Schools for New Orleans in partnership with NOLA Messenger.