Husna Lapidus

Literacy Leaders

By Carol Radin | Photography by Mary Grace Photography 

Learning and literacy at Kumon Math and Reading Center in DeWitt are a family affair for owner and director Husna Lapidus.

As a businesswoman and mother of three, Husna brings the principles of engaged learning from her home to workplace everyday. At Kumon, her own children can be seen sitting at the instruction tables doing math and reading exercises with the older students. Her 10-year-old likes to help with shelving and materials inventory. And her husband, Noah, assumes the business’ bookkeeping and administrative responsibilities.

For the other children enrolled in Kumon’s individualized, after-school instructional programs, the family approach works. Some children grew up there, attending from pre-school age through their middle-school years. Some return as high schoolers to volunteer for the place that made them feel welcomed and successful.

Husna doesn’t simply strive for loyalty to her family and clients; she has a strong loyalty to the lifelong value literacy plays in our lives.

“Literacy is essential to the community,” she explained, adding that literacy helps children become leaders and contribute to their communities.

“I never liked reading because I thought it was work,” Husna said, recalling her own teenage years. “It just sucked the joy out of everything I did when I was in school.”

Now, her goal is to take the work out of learning.

Husna and her staff of learning assistants have the initial goal of boosting their students’ confidence with introductory-level mathematics and reading activities. Taking on new challenges becomes a gradual process in which the children are supported at every step, she explained. Learning assistants evaluate the children’s weekly progress and encourage them to build new skills once they’re ready.

“They need to start feeling success,” Husna said.

She regards the parents as partners, and communicates with each family regularly, encouraging them to go along with their child’s natural inclinations.

“I tell families not to push if it doesn’t feel natural,” she said.

Trusted to follow strengths at their own pace, students hardly notice the work is getting more difficult, because they’ve mastered the requisite academic skills and work habits to undertake more responsibility.

Husna sees to it that Kumon’s library is well-stocked with books for each reading level — which students are free to borrow — and she offers reading lists to parents. Pursuing children’s own reading interests promotes literacy skills and fosters a sense of enjoyment rather than obligation, Husna said.

Husna’s emphasis on sound work habits, persistence and responsibility is no doubt largely due to her own role models.

Born to Pakistani parents who emigrated in the 1970s, Husna witnessed her mother and father’s drive and determination to change their lives for the better. For generations, her family stressed the importance of gaining a college education before marriage, as well as the significance of striving to reach one’s full potential.

“Work hard now; it will pay off later,” Husna recalls her parents saying to her.

Husna herself pursued an ambitious journey through college and graduate school. She studied engineering at the University of Rochester, taking positions after graduation in laboratory robotics and then quality assurance in medical imaging.

Returning to Syracuse, she completed a joint program with Syracuse University College of Law and the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, earning a law degree and a master’s in public administration. Her combined education in engineering and law led her to patent law.

Then her first son was born, and Husna’s priorities changed.

“I’d leave in the morning and come home when he went to bed,” she said. “It broke my heart.”

She decided to stay home with her children. After seven years, she acquired ownership of Kumon from her mother, who had retired from the business.

Husna still spends her days away from home, but now her husband and children can spend that time with her at the center. Watching Husna work helps her children experience literacy on both a personal and communal level, and understand that “nothing happens magically,” she said.

Recently, Husna was able to put her passion for learning and literacy into practice with a significant contribution to the DeWitt Community Library. In her family’s frequent trips to the library’s Shoppingtown Mall space, Husna learned of the library’s new building project and request for contributions.

“I knew I couldn’t turn away from that,” Husna said. “They had some significant needs.”

After hearing about the plans for a children’s area, Husna and her husband decided Kumon would gift the Children’s Collections Area. The new DeWitt library building on Jamesville Road is scheduled to open Aug. 21, and the Children’s Collections Area is slated to bear recognition to Kumon Reading and Math Center and to literacy.

“If there’s nothing else I can contribute to our community, I’d be happy to know that this is my legacy,” Husna said. SWM

For more information on Kumon, visit Hair styling by Laura Marino.