“What is the purpose of windows and why are there so many?” This was the question Polina Broitman’s 4-year-old son asked her one summer day as they were hanging out at a local coffee shop.
If you know anything about Broitman, you know she didn’t give him a quick, curiosity-squelching answer. Instead, they, along with her other son, who is almost 10, went on an intellectual journey which led them to consider the concept of freedom, vampires, jails, and claustrophobia.
This same kind of curiosity about the world is what led Broitman on her own journey from Russia through Israel to America, and to eventually start her own business, Architectural School for Kids, when she immigrated here two years ago with her partner and sons. She founded the school out of her home in Lancaster a few months ago. She says Buffalo’s amazing entrepreneurial climate as well as the city, nature, and people, encouraged her to grow her love of teaching and developing interesting programs for kids.
Born in the former Soviet Union, Broitman, then 12, and her family moved to Israel after the political collapse; her mom wanted a better life for her children. Broitman’s father had to renounce his work in the sciences; it was three years before Russia would let them leave.
During that time, her father opened two small businesses to support his family: He made sport shoes and sold honey. “I remember his joy and excitement from the first sketch (of the shoes he designed),” she says. “I enjoyed this creative process.” Later, she watched him “build a massive and beautiful structure for the bees, smartly designed for efficiency and comfort, and he would drive (the bees) to various locations in the Caucasus Mountains in Russia.
“I was raised to believe everything is possible,” she says. “(My parents) always told me that I can succeed at whatever I choose to do. I saw them do it, so it was not empty words.”
An architect by profession, with two degrees from Tel-Aviv University—one in political science and one in architecture—Broitman is modeling for her own children that they, too, can build, their future. And she is helping other children do the same.
The decision to immigrate was not easy. After her husband received a job offer with a Buffalo start-up, they decided to move. She closed her successful architectural practice in Israel which she’d been running for eight years.
At ASK, she’s now teaching classes for children ages 5 to 13 on architecture, 3D modeling, drawing, sculpting, design, and recycling, as well as many others. This school is innovative in that it provides an environment where kids can dream, explore ideas, and grow into future thought leaders, architects, and creators in whatever field they choose. “My goal is not to prepare them to be architects, but rather to become architects of their own future,” she says.
Said one parent, “Unlike many art or craft programs where kids do look-alike projects using a step-by-step method, at ASK the approach is totally different. An emphasis is placed on individuality and creativity.”
Broitman hopes to expand her school into a brick-and-mortar space in the city and attract other talented teachers to join her. Right now, when she is not teaching and raising her sons, she is researching funding opportunities and keeping her own dream alive.
She wants other entrepreneurs to dream and says, “Give yourself time and you can create a new you.” She advises them to test ideas in a small environment and get as much feedback as possible.
She also encourages future business owners to be realistic: “If you dream of working two hours a day and earning a million dollars, are you being realistic?”
What started in her kitchen as an opportunity to make new friends in a new country is now growing into a business where she can help her children and others dream, play, and design. Her company motto says it all: “The architects of tomorrow play today.”