Wallingford Teacher Expands into Books, Television

Camila Gabriel talks about her bilingual school’s expansion, her children’s books, and new television show.

Camila Gabriel, Wallingford resident and Sheehan High School class of 2001 graduate, runs Knee-High Academy Tutoring Center, 43 Hall Ave. in Wallingford. Since Knee-High Academy opened its doors in July 2010, the center has provided one-on-one tutoring, pre-school through high school education, and has even attracted some adult students.

Originally from Bogotá, Colombia, Gabriel is bilingual and offers unique, Spanish-centered curriculum.

Some pre-schoolers are there to learn Spanish, others are developmentally behind in school, and still others are excelling in school and need an extra challenged.

“I have the whole spectrum,” Gabriel said.

Thirty students, including students for the new SAT preparation classes, are enrolled. Gabriel originally wanted to open a pre-school but couldn’t find a location. Instead, she implemented phase two of her plan immediately, opening up tutoring for older kids.

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“It’s been a really fun ride,” Gabriel said. “We have so many Spanish speakers [in Wallingford], I think it’s important for Spanish speakers to learn English, and English speakers to learn Spanish.”

Although Knee-High Academy operates as a non-profit, Gabriel said, it’s technically a for-profit. This prevents the Wallingford schools from promoting the center or assigning kids there. Instead, Gabriel contacted school principals and teachers individually.

“Some teachers are really receptive,” Gabriel said, “really positive.”

The new session starts on Thursday, Oct. 11 and is taking enrollment now.

Published Author, TV Host

Gabriel published two books that have both Spanish and English text, “I Can Do It!/Lo Puedo Hacer!” and “Lost!/Perdido!” Cheshire artist Robyn Levine illustrated both books. A third book, “On Safari!/En Safari!” is in the works, too.

Then there’s “Penn’s Pals,” the story hour on public access television she recently began. The show features mainly Connecticut authors along with a craft project every episode. The show will, Gabriel said, give kids a chance to enjoy reading and experience the author.

“I’m really excited about that,” Gabriel said.

The show is filmed monthly and broadcast Monday through Friday at 7 a.m. on WPAA, Wallingford’s public access television channel. Author Christina Cody and her book “The Perfectly Imperfect Pumpkin” was featured on October’s episode. An earlier episode featured Wallingford children’s author Dawn Aldrich and her book, “Auntie’s House.”

“Our authors were phenomenal and the kids were so excited,” Gabriel said.

Gabriel said the show gives kids a behind-the-scenes look into the books they read.

“A lot of kids have books but, where do they come from,” said Gabriel.

Next month’s show will feature a book about the legend of Sleeping Giant with both the author and the illustrator. New audience members are encouraged to inquire about space through the "Penn’s Pals" Facebook page.

Editor’s Note: Lauren Takores was a high school classmate of Camila Gabriel.

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