Saturday, February 27th, 2021

Shopper Client Stories


A dynamic, nurturing environment where children grow and thrive

by Cristi Sanchez

Heidi Riden and Kevin Thomas

Heidi Riden and Kevin Thomas

A high-quality education is something that all parents want for their children. They desire a place where their children will grow, thrive, and succeed - an environment that's rich, nurturing, and dynamic. Heidi Riden, President of Apple Tree Learning Centers, is excited about how the facilities are growing and progressing to provide a high-quality Christian-based education for children in the cities of Chesapeake and Suffolk.

Apple Tree is a Christian learning center that started in a small church on North Battlefield Boulevard 30 years ago. It uses a blend of the Abeka and Pinnacle faith-based curriculums and provides full-day learning experiences for infants through Pre-K students, as well as a full-day Academy program for K-5th. Summertime is filled with adventurous Summer Camp activities that involve weekly field trips, in-house events, cooking projects, art projects, and water play fun.

The families at Apple Tree are especially excited about their new location at 1141 Executive Boulevard in the Greenbrier area. The 16,000-square-foot building with all new amenities for the students is home to two separate educational zones- the K-5 Academy wing and the Early Learning section for infants to Pre-K.

Kevin Thomas, Executive Director, proudly states, "We have newer technology and so much more space. We have big, beautiful classrooms and a gorgeous new playground with stunning green artificial turf surfacing. The children love the playground so much that when they're out there playing, we can hear their excitement from a distance."

With child-sized furnishings throughout, Apple Tree's new location is built to be kid-centered. "It's their space and they need it to work and function for them," Judi Gray, Center Director says. But the facility's crowning achievement is the brand new 5000-square-foot multi-use gym with half-tile and half-carpeted flooring. "This allows for the students to participate in activities like indoor soccer, basketball, and to have quality physical activity indoors when weather is cold or inclement," Judi adds.

"We've also installed brand new batting cages in the gym," Heidi says excitedly. "They're handy for youth baseball travel teams who are in need of indoor training space when weather isn't conducive to outdoor batting practice. Being able to support other youth programs in other areas such as sports allows Apple Tree to extend its ability to reach more youth and families in positive ways throughout Hampton Roads. This is the Apple Tree difference we want to make in our community."

Above, clockwise from left: Center Director  Judi Gray, President Heidi Riden, <BR>HR Director Zach Huffman and Executive Director Kevin Thomas.  <BR>  Photo by Michele Thompson

Above, clockwise from left: Center Director Judi Gray, President Heidi Riden,
HR Director Zach Huffman and Executive Director Kevin Thomas.
Photo by Michele Thompson

Despite the growth with the new facility, Heidi is quick to point out that Apple Tree is a locally-operated non-profit. "Because of our size and footprint in this area, sometimes families think we are a franchise or chain. We don't have a CEO in another state making decisions. We're here. The wonderful thing about Apple Tree is that we offer a high-quality education at prices that are actually lower than many of our competitors." Longtime parent of the program, Erin Simeone, proudly states, "Apple Tree has become our second family. We are greeted each day as if we are family to Apple Tree, not a customer. The personal touch that the teachers and directors put into their center is genuine and heartfelt. Our son loves coming here and he adores his teachers. As an educator myself, I feel confident when I drop off my child each day that he is in an environment where he is loved and academically challenged."

With her eyes always on providing high-quality education, Heidi looks past the new location and its spectacular new gym to even more exciting news. Three out of the six Apple Tree Learning Centers are now fully accredited through AdvancED, a nationally-recognized agency that provides accreditation for schools, Infants through Post Secondary.

 "We're in the centers every day
and foster good relationships
with our parents.
They know us and reach out to us."

 - Kevin Thomas

"I'm very excited and pleased about the accreditation," Heidi says beaming. "In order to be accredited, we have to meet standards that go above and beyond state regulations. Accrediting agencies are looking for quality programs that meet a higher standard for curriculum, teacher-child interaction, and classroom dynamics. It's a very rewarding accomplishment! Accreditation is not something that can be accomplished in a month or two, it can take up to 24-months to complete the process, so our goal is to hopefully have all the Apple Tree campuses accredited by the end of 2020."

It's not just the education of the children that accrediting agencies consider in making their decision. They also check to see if institutions and facilities meet the higher standards required for staff professional development. Apple Tree does.

 Apple Tree Learning Center’s Taylor Leitz teaches her kindergarten class. <BR> Photo by Michele Thompson

Apple Tree Learning Center’s Taylor Leitz teaches her kindergarten class.
Photo by Michele Thompson

"We close twice a year for all six centers to come together for Apple Tree in-service training where we engage in team-building and share the latest educational tools to make our staff and students even more successful. With the new building, we can now hold our in-services in the gym with plenty of room for activities and team-building exercises,"   says Zach Huffman, Director of Human Resources.

In addition to the in-services, Apple Tree has a partnership with the Virginia Infant Toddler Specialist Network, which provides classroom and one-on-one training to the Early Learning teaching staff for age infant to two years. The state representative from the Network observes teaching staff, provides feedback and resources to teachers and offers weekend classes to further their development.

While Apple Tree's latest accomplishments are currently front and center, Heidi and Kevin want to stress that they are very family-oriented. "We make ourselves very available," Kevin states. "We're in the centers every day and foster good relationships with our parents. They know us and reach out to us. They expect to see us and notice when we're not there. I even had a parent who kept missing me at school who was concerned saying, "I haven't seen you in a week!'
"I know," Heidi chimes in. "I had taken my computer to the new location, and I had a parent call me to ask where I was because my computer was gone. She thought I'd left!" she finishes laughing.

Under Heidi Riden's leadership, Apple Tree Learning Centers continue to grow, providing a close-knit, family-friendly environment in which highly-qualified staff members are dedicated to the growth, success and flourishing of each child in their care.

Apple Tree Learning Centers

112 Bruton Court
Chesapeake, VA 23322


601 W. Washington St.
Suffolk, VA 23434

410 N. Broad St.
Suffolk, VA 23434

163 Mt. Pleasant Road
Chesapeake, VA 23320


112 Bruton Court
Chesapeake, VA
1101 Volvo Parkway
Chesapeake, VA