The pandemic forced Annie Meimberg to reimagine her business — so she transformed it into a whimsical school called Dream Scene.
BY LEENA RAO
PHOTOGRAPHY BY EMMA PIRTLE
n late 2019, Annie Meimberg took the biggest risk of her young career: She left her job as an elementary school teacher in Royal Oak and threw her savings into transforming a mundane office space in Troy into a sparkly, pastel-colored venue where she hosted themed birthday parties for kids.
Called Dream Scene, Meimberg’s business — which she’d imagined since she was a teen — took off quickly, with parents clamoring to book music-and-dance-filled parties designed with themes ranging from Mad Scientist to Parisian Glam to Mermaid Bash. But four months later, the world found itself faced with a pandemic, with all plans — including, of course parties — canceled indefinitely. When she was finally able to reopen in the summer of 2020, she says, “parties were dead.”
With festivities on hold, Meimberg, 27, of Royal Oak, started cooking up a new use for her space. “I heard about all these people doing pods for online schools, and I thought maybe I could turn that into a business.” Within two weeks of deciding to switch gears, Meimberg recruited two other teachers — one of them her best friend — and enrolled nine K-6 students from Birmingham Public Schools.
The plan was for Meimberg and here team to facilitate the online curriculum from the students’ schools and assist them when they needed help — which happened often. “I remember seeing one of our fifth graders learning fractions over Zoom,” Meimberg recalls. “She looked completely lost and disengaged. I felt so bad for her.” Three weeks into the school year, a parent in the pod asked Meimberg if she’d consider homeschooling her children (instead of just assisting with remote learning). Meimberg asked the other parents in the pod if they would consider pulling their children from the Birmigham schools; they all said yes.
Last month, Meimberg kicked off the second year of Dream Scene’s Home School program, with 15 students from grades K-6 (the pupils are from Birmingham as well as Bloomfield Hills and Royal Oak public schools). The school runs four days a week, with Meimberg and two teachers — both retired from Royal Oak Public Schools — using the Oakland County’s curriculum while tailoring each lesson to each student’s needs. “With four different grade levels in my own class-room, I’m always differentiating [the students’] learning and pushing them to their individual learning potential,” Meimberg says.
Meimberg also incorporates her trademark creativity into her curriculum, designing exercises like a “mystery Skype” with a guest from a country outside the U.S.; students have to ask yes-or-no questions to the guest to figure out their location. Last year she hosted weekly cooking lessons — she enlisted her mom to teach — and the kids put together donation bags for the homeless, created musicals and talent shows, and even camped in Meimberg’s backyard. “If your lessons are creative, engaging, and fun, you’ll have your students’ attention,” she says. “My students don’t like learning something boring just as much as I don’t like teaching a boring lesson.”
The parents of her students agree. “Annie is extremely professional and organized yet she’s fun and encouraging,” says Stefanie Hays of Birmingham, who enrolled her fourth and sixth graders in Dream Scene’s school last year. Her younger child “had the best academic year she’s ever had,” Hays says. “Annie was able to hone in on the areas where she needed help. I watched her confidence just grow and grow.” Hays re-enrolled her younger child at Dream Scene this year for fifth grade (her older child aged out of the program, as the school doesn’t offer a curriculum for seventh grade and above).
As for what kind of student benefits from a school like Dream Scene — particularly when most children are back in the classroom this year — Meimberg points to the smaller class size and personalized learning. Many Dream Scene students came from classes with up to 25 kids and one teacher; now there’s one teacher for every five students. Dream Scene also does not require masks in the classroom, an issue that some of the school’s parents feel strongly about.
With the school in full swing, birthday parties are also back on track at Dream Scene: Almost every weekend this fall is booked with at least four to five parties, and there are events scheduled into 2022. Meimberg, too, is not slowing down. “I’m the principal, the teacher, the social worker, and the custodian,” she says, adding that yes, she actually cleans the bathrooms. “I don’t sit still, and I’m here until 10 every night. But I love it so much.”