“I want to be the person a child can lean on when they feel like they have no one else to listen to them.” Today, as an assistant teacher at the Second Street Learning Center, Araika lives her purpose each day in the classroom.
The classroom is familiar to Araika. She attended the Second Street Learning Center at Opportunity House as a 6-year-old child. Her mother worked at the Second Street Learning Center as a teacher’ aide.
While it may seem like history repeating itself, Araika’s journey today is much different than that of her mother. Araika’s mother came to Opportunity House after the landlord refused to renew their lease. Her mother and 6 siblings arrived at Opportunity House with only the things they could carry. The family of 3 girls and 3 boys, welcomed another baby while they stayed at the shelter.
Araika’s mother knew she needed to find a way to support her family. A job at the Second Street Learning Center gave her the experience she needed to establish a career and provided affordable day care for her children. She eventually got an Associates Degree in Early Childhood Education and became an assistant teacher at the Center.
As a student at the Second Street Learning Center, Araika has a breadth of memories that she recalls. Her recollection of her experience from over 20 years ago was that the classrooms were very structured and regimented. She felt the need to conform to what was expected rather than expressing herself. She never doubted that the teachers and staff cared, she felt they didn’t offer the emotional support she craved. Field trips always brightened her days and she has fond memories of visiting a potato chip factory and a local farm.
The Second Street Learning Center instilled a love of learning and Araika continued her studies at Reading High School. She enrolled in the nursing program at the Berks Career and Technology Center. “I liked helping people. I wanted to make a difference.” She got a job as a home health aide and was living her dream of helping others. What she was not prepared for was experiencing the death of her clients. “I grew attached to them and when someone died, it was like losing a loved one. It was painful, “ noted Araika. She decided to change her career and returned to the Second Street Learning Center as a teacher’s aide.
“It felt different,” she added. “I was on the other side. I had the opportunity to be the teacher that I had wanted as a child,” said Araika. She became a sounding board to students who were having a rough day. She listened to students who felt alone or needed an adult to listen to them. She was always available to offer encouraging word or reassurance.
After completing the required training, including her child development associate training (CDA), Araika became an assistant teacher at the Second Street Learning Center. A year after that she assumed an additional new role–mother.
Now as a mother, she experienced the emotions of a parent placing their child in the care of others. “Although I trusted the staff, I was still nervous. I was concerned that they would not know her cues and wouldn’t care for her like I would,” said Araika. Within 1-2 weeks, her coworkers shared milestones and she felt like they were part of her life. “They cared about her like I did.”
When Araika was pregnant with her second child, she became a stay at home mom due to complications of her pregnancy. When her second child was 2 years old, she returned to her role at the Learning Center. “Having daycare for my children made it easier for me to go back to work,” she added. Just six weeks after her third child was born, all three children returned to the Learning Center. “I felt very confident with the staff and knew what to expect,’” she noted. The children were excited to return and Araika quickly returned to her familiar routine.
The Second Street Learning Center has been a life-changing experience for Araika and her family. “Without affordable daycare, I could not work. The staff understands what it’s like to be a working parent since most are working parents,” she added. Having the ability to work gives her the chance to provide things for her children that they need and things she didn’t have as she was growing up.
The benefits to their children go far beyond material things. “They interact with students from different schools, different age groups and different backgrounds,” noted Araika. They are exposed to a variety of activities and it allows them to develop a broader set of skills and fosters a spirit of inclusiveness. For mom, there’s an additional benefit. “The children do their homework while they are at the Learning Center. This gives us more quality meal time and family time when we are at home,” she added.
© Opportunity House 2022