At Right At School, we’re locally-inspired. We represent the communities we serve. We believe in order to enrich the lives of every child and family, we must create room for each other. Our unique skills. Our stories. And our differences. It’s who we are.
RAS-ers Tamariya Smith and Iris Delos Reyes from Renton, WA talk about celebrating Pride.
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Women leaders from RAS discuss their Pathways to Leadership
The traits that are required in leadership have been fostered in me since youth. I played a lot of organized sports as a child, and my father coached most times. He had really high expectations about how I conducted myself and interacted with my teammates, and he expected me to be a leader. When I think about the skills required to be a good leader, they overlap with the skills required to be a good teammate: communication, listening, and problem solving.
I like to think that my leadership experience began in youth. I always tried to be a leader in whatever environment I was in — sports, the classroom, friendships. For me, inclusion is not just a job title/requirement, it is a philosophy in life. I’ve always tried to make others feel valued and included in whatever space I am in, and I think this is the foundation of my leadership experience. At Right At School, this took form in trying to convey to everyone I interact with the importance of inclusion and understanding our students and their differences. I was given the privileged platform to do this through training opportunities.
Starting in childhood, I was always passionate about sports and math. These are two areas that, especially in the ‘90s, were dominated by males (and presumed to be strengths of males over females). My parents ingrained in me that I could do anything that I put my mind to, and that my gender should never be thought of as a deterrent. When I was in fourth grade, I decided I wanted to play on the school flag football team. I was the only girl at my school to do that, and one of maybe three in the league. I remember getting weird looks and side comments from boys about football not being a sport for girls, but those definitely decreased over the course of the season as I ended up having the most touchdowns on my team.
There have been times in my life where I’ve felt hesitant to be as assertive or vocal as I wanted to be because I am a woman, but I’ve overcome that over time. I think I’m lucky that my parents taught me from such a young age that I should be confident and that I should not have to change anything about myself to earn that respect.
There are some ways that being a woman in this field can be a benefit. There were very few men in my graduate school Child Development master’s program, and I remember them citing multiple incidents where their ability to work with children was questioned or criticized because of their gender. In this way, I think I am lucky to be in this field. Women are often presumed to have more empathy and innate ability to appropriately support children. At Right At School, I love that there are so many women on the leadership team and in upper management. It is reinforcing and motivating to see that. I hope that my role has the effect of making all children feel supported and included at Right At School. It can be hard because I do not have direct interactions with the students we support, so I rely on the area managers and field staff that I train and support to create a space and experiences for students that are in line with the message I try to impart.
My mom. I don’t have a specific quote, but she always told me that I could do anything I set my mind to. She told me not to do it for anyone else or to impress anyone, but that I should do it for me. For that reason, I’ve always been both my biggest critic and my best motivator.
My leadership traits began to blossom around 2004. I worked as a Student Advocate for elementary and high school age students, preparing them for post-secondary options. It was my first experience leading a team, but my boss was a great role model. I enjoyed working alongside her and tried to help her as much as I could because I eventually wanted her job! LOL. But seriously, it was rewarding to support youth in their growth and development to become future professionals.
I started in the wonderful world of non-profits. For several years I worked as a Community Resource Coordinator under an Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) grant. In this position, I instituted after school programming for a high school on Chicago’s Southeast side, working as the liaison between the high school and an arts education organization. I hired creative professionals from all over the city to teach, encourage and help shape the lives of these students using art, sports and academic support as a platform. I managed all of the administrative functions of the program to ensure its success and continued funding. That experience helped me land a position as Program Associate with the same arts education organization. In that position, I supported the implementation of arts programs in elementary and high schools throughout the Chicago area.
I have been blessed to work for organizations and companies where gender inequality has not been an issue for myself or my peers.
Yes! Working with parents in Out of School Time programming (OST) can be a challenge… I find that especially as a child gets older, parent participation in school goes down… I spent many days and nights trying to get parents involved in what really excited their children. I wrote notes and letters explaining to parents how important OST is to the development of their children and how their endorsement could take their child even further…[and] I created a parent cafe that ran alongside after school programming. The parent cafe offered professional office space, networking events, workshops and other special interests that got parents [to come] in the school building. While they were there, parents were encouraged to stop by their child’s after school classroom, which enabled them to observe how dedicated and serious [their children] were about perfecting their crafts. [All of this] motivated parents to dedicate energy into supporting their child’s talents.
This is an interesting question! I’d say being a woman working for RAS has allowed me to build wonderful professional and personal relationships with other female industry leaders across the country. Hearing about and seeing the impact of their work has been inspiring for me.
I stand in that space between education and recreation and I believe children appreciate that. Most of my younger relatives think my job is so cool! Many of them participated in events and trips with me and even helped me with “special” projects. A couple of them went on to study early childhood education and I’d like to believe that I and other educators in our family were their influencers.
Dr. Barbara A. Sizemore was a Chicago Public School teacher/principal, college professor, dean for the School of Education at DePaul University and an author. She was also my mother’s third grade teacher! Dr. Sizemore pioneered and was responsible for school reform in African American communities. The Forward in her book, Walking in Circles: The Black Struggle for School Reform, describes her this way:
“Dr. Sizemore was involved in the struggle for academic and cultural excellence, successfully and for many decades. Few educators can match her record of excellence in teaching, research, theory building, institution building and political activism.”
But it’s perhaps this quote that best summarizes why she has been such an inspiration in my professional journey.
“The cry of the ghetto is being heard by a nation with its fingers in its ears.” – Barbara A. Sizemore.
It started early on! You know the saying, “She’s not bossy; she is a leader before her time”? That was me! I was always the captain on a team or the president of my class in high school. From a career standpoint, I started out as a department manager out of college and continued to climb the ranks along the way. Twenty years later, I found my true calling, which is the career I am in now. I was lucky someone understood that my skills could transfer out of retail and into childcare and education.
I have worked in a management capacity my whole life — split almost evenly between retail management and education management. I always craved the next opportunity and worked hard to reach each level along the way. I talked Mark Rothschild into hiring me as a VP of sales because it was the only position I could think of that he did not have at the time. While my sales skills were good enough to get in the door at RAS, they weren’t my passion as much as operations was. Around nine months later, I got the opportunity to help with operations. Fast forward another six months and I was promoted to COO.
Early in my career, being a woman in a management position was not as easy as it is today. I purposefully used the name “Pat” instead of “Patti” or “Patricia” so people would not know if they were dealing with a man or woman. At one point in my career, I worked for a heavily male-dominated retailer, and I was supposed to share a room at a training out of town. Much to my surprise, I opened the hotel room door to find all male belongings in the room and on the bathroom counter. Good news — I got my own room that trip!
Yes, over and over again! I think we all have to make adjustments along the way to our style and the culture of the organization we work for. Coming to the education/childcare industry after working with a heavily male-dominated retailer, I learned to adjust quickly. The first site visit I did, I made an educator cry because she was not wearing a name tag. I learned I needed to quickly soften my approach in this industry, which was more child-centric and sensitive. The other big learning experience I had was discovering how women’s vocabulary is much different than men’s. I used a book that I highly recommend to women, “Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office” by Lois P. Frankel, to help better understand the differences and similarities.
I like to believe the biggest effect I have had here at RAS is to advocate and empower women in their careers. Believe in them, challenge them, and watch them rise to the occasion.
This will not be your typical answer! I was inspired by a high school home economics teacher. Yes, I said home ec. I am that old! LOL. Growing up in a small rural town in the late ’70s, it was expected that you get married, have babies, and live in the town. I remember telling my teacher that I did not want that life. I did not want kids. I did not want to get married and I really wanted a career. She encouraged me and told me that I could do anything I wanted in life and I did not have to follow the norm of the area or town. I did just that! I always let her know what a huge impact that conversation had on my life.
Chief Operating Officer
My leadership traits first emerged early in my childhood. I was the oldest, so I made sure that whatever I did, the little kids did as well. LOL. I would tell them, “You guys follow me and I’ll teach you. But when you show other people, make sure it’s better than me. And don’t mess up because I’ll say I didn't teach you that!”
My leadership experience really started to come out in high school. In my junior year, I and my co-captain led our ProStart cooking team in the national competition. We competed against 50 other schools. My team was down after some mishaps in the kitchen. I pulled us together and said, “Let's just rock with what we’ve got and know.” Thirty-two hours later, we placed second. Our school had never placed before. It was the highlight of my high school years. The following year, I led the team all by myself and we ended up placing fourth or fifth.
Wow… I can't even touch the surface of the gender stereotypes I've had to overcome in life. I think the most common one is the “angry woman”. For me, that has been the hardest to overcome. I’ve even had to adapt my communication skills in order to not come off as upset or angry, even in the workplace.
Absolutely! Especially working with such a diverse group of women. Sometimes, you have to put yourself in the shoes of others to understand them as a person. I’ve grown in such ways over the years that I can adapt my approach with people by demonstrating that I value them (employee, friend, etc.) and want them to succeed beyond the work environment.
Being a woman has not affected me here at RAS. I also do not feel that it has had an effect on my role with children. Here in the program, I’m just Miss Chelaya. I’m the one who’s here to help guide you in the right direction and help you with school work (not math though, because Miss Chelaya doesn't do that). I’m here to let you make mistakes, messes, and memories. All that matters is the smile on the faces of the families I serve. It's happiness and laughter.
Mae C. Jemison. I’m not sure why I became obsessed with her. But I remember doing a report on her in third grade and being mesmerized that she was the first African American woman in space! I thought, if she can do that, then I know I can do anything I put my mind to.
“Don’t let anyone rob you of your imagination, your creativity, or your curiosity. It’s your place in the world; it’s your life. Go on and do all you can with it, and make it the life you want to live.” — Mae C. Jemison
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We serve more and more communities across America every day. That’s why we work hard to elevate everyone’s voice. And while we’ve got a lot to celebrate, there’s plenty of work to do. Our goal is to ensure every single person in the Right At School community feels valued and supported, and that’s where we’re heading.