For Mariana Reyes, giving back to the children of New London is a way to share her love of the city that she grew up in. A 30-year-old mother of two, Reyes just finished her second academic year as Assistant Principal at the Regional Multicultural Magnet School here in New London. RMMS, a magnet elementary school which is part of LEARN, accepts students from all Connecticut towns, but a large portion - about 40% - of students are from New London. She says that she is “honored to work in New London and get to work with so many New London youth each day.”
Reyes moved to New London from Costa Rica with her family when she was three-years-old in 1991. She attended Harbor School, Bennie Dover Jackson Middle School, and graduated from New London High School in 2006. She says that she felt like she had “an amazing school experience and had amazing teachers that really made sure to push me to reach my potential.”
She credits the diversity of New London schools for making her think globally about many things, and that perspective propelled her to pursue International Studies at American University in Washington D.C. when it came time for college. With a goal of working for an international organization or for a government agency committed to making the world a better place, Reyes enrolled in a course on international education, which is what initially sparked her interest in teaching.
After graduating from college in 2009, she returned to New London and decided to apply to be a substitute teacher at RMMS to earn money before returning to D.C. to find permanent work. However, after working as a sub at RMMS, Reyes quickly realized that what she really wanted to do was to work in a school. A colleague at the elementary school shared that he was able to become a special education teacher by completing the New York City Teaching Fellows program, one of the country’s largest and most selective alternative routes to teacher certification. Reyes decided to apply for the program, and was accepted.
She began the program in the summer of 2012, and though the coursework was very intense, Reyes says that what really shaped her as a future teacher was the experience she had working with NYC youth. Working as a bilingual special education teacher at P.S. 72 in Spanish Harlem, Reyes says “Taught me about life, perseverance, and the impact a positive school experience can have on a child's life.”
When she completed the program two years later, she was recently married and expecting her first child. Reyes saw an open special education position listed at RMMS, where her love for educating was born, and interviewed for the position at nine months pregnant. For her, working at RMMS was the easiest decision to make - she knew that the school, which focuses on teaching kids to be global citizens, was where she was meant to be - she didn’t even apply anywhere else.
Ecstatic to re-join the RMMS family, she was able to grow as a teacher, was encouraged to keep fulfilling her potential by her mentors at RMMS and LEARN, and decided to go back to school to earn her Sixth Year degree in School Administration after her second child was born two years later. When she saw the opportunity to be Assistant Principal at RMMS open up, she applied, and was offered the position.
Reyes, whose parents instilled the value of hard work in her, says that the hardest part of it all has been balancing being a working mom with the demands of her job. She says that, “Mom guilt is real but I am fortunate to have a big village of people to support me with this challenge each day.” For her, the time between dinner and bedtime is sacred time with her kids, even if that means coming back to her computer to continue working once the kids are asleep. She also hopes that by being a working young mom, she is able to advocate for other women trying to balance their passion for their careers and their passion for their family.
Reyes, who feels lucky to have support from LEARN and RMMS, as well as her family, who help her to balance her busy work schedule while still being there for her husband and 3 & 5 year old children, knows that relationships are everything. She advises, “Surround yourself with positive people with a good sense of humor. Even if you are facing difficult circumstances, if you approach it with the support of a team of people, you are more likely to succeed.”
Brenda’s Note: This profile is part of my “Small City, GREAT Women” Photo Project, which celebrates the women of New London, CT who are doing great things. If you know a woman who would be a good fit for the project, NOMINATE HER HERE.