Meet Our Staff is a series of blog posts where we’ll introduce you to the staff from the City of Manassas Park Department of Parks and Recreation. For today’s post, we’re featuring Arely Angel.
Arely started as a teacher’s assistant in October 2011 and quickly became a Lead Preschool Teacher for Recreation Services. As a Lead Preschool Teacher her responsibilities include supervising children, programming and implementing curriculum, maintaining licensing standards, and overseeing and managing staff.
What drew you to working with the community center?
I applied to be a teacher’s assistant because I was a stay-at-home mom with my youngest child and I wanted both of us to be out of the house more. I used to live right across the street from the community center and I was already familiar with the building because my oldest was in extended care – so it was a natural choice!
After a couple months, I was called in for an interview and 2 week s later I was Ms. Sue’s assistant for the afternoon preschool class. Back then, there was only one morning class with 20 students and 2 afternoon classes with 7-10 students.
What are your favorite programs here at the community center?
Obviously preschool! It’s what I have a passion for!
I also like the Spanish classes, obviously because I’m bilingual, but because it’s so important for kids to be bilingual because they have so many more opportunities. It’s helped me in my life and has allowed me to help others.
I also like the Zumba classes! It gives me time to unwind – and Miriam is amazing! She’s really motivating. If she thinks you’re struggling with a particular step, she’ll walk around and come next to you and start working with directly.
How did you get started with preschool?
I’ve always wanted to work somewhere I really enjoyed working. Before I was a teacher’s assistant I was actually in the mortgage business and it just felt like a job I was going to every day. When I first applied to be a teacher’s assistant I wasn’t sure what I was expecting, but the more I worked with kids and the more I got to know them, I found myself motivated to do more and more for them. In fact, I was only Ms. Sue’s assistant for 2 months before I had my own class!
How would you describe our preschool program to somebody?
It’s a starting point for a child to come in and have the opportunity to learn how a classroom works, to be independent, and to socialize and make friends. Of course we learn letters and numbers, but we also learn through playing. You can learn so much from playing! For example: you can learn to share and communicate, but you can also learn math. However, I think the most important thing we teach preschoolers is to be independent.
How can somebody enhance their preschooler’s education/development?
By talking to them!! Ask them questions! Allow them to be independent. As parents we tend to hold our children back because we tend to do things for them. Between the ages of 3-5 is when children learn the most, where they pick up a lot of their social skills, and their large and small motor skills. We need to let them be and explore – of course within boundaries. I really think that’s what preschool is: a place to allow kids to safely explore their world independently.
What would you say has been the most rewarding experience being a preschool teacher?
It was walking into my very first graduation ceremony. I was all prepared with my speech, my slideshow, everything. I felt completely prepared. It wasn’t until I was walking into the room when I realized the children were moving onto their next step in their lives and I wouldn’t get to see them every week anymore. It was a big step – I had such a hard time giving the speech that first time. Ms. Sue had to help me.
What would you say has been the most challenging experience?
It was my very first experience as a teacher by myself. I was working with a child with special needs and I had no prior experience working with children with special needs. At the time, I just didn’t know what I could do – I felt like I didn’t know what his needs were. I felt like wasn’t able to help him. That feeling is what motivated me to go back to school.
What are you studying in school?
I am about 12 credits away from my Associate’s in Early Childhood Education. I have a Child Development Association (CDA) certificate in Early Childhood Development. I’m definitely interested in pursuing a Bachelor’s. I’m looking at a program George Mason offers. Eventually I want to start working with autistic children.
What was your first job?
I was a receptionist at a hair salon. I was in my last year of high school. I answered the phones, I made sure our clients had refreshments – it was a higher end salon so we had tea and wine (obviously I couldn’t serve the wine!), I set up appointments, and I helped with washing hair.
I think what the job taught me is that I don’t want to wash people’s hair anymore! It motivated to move up. Some people do one thing and they just know, “This is what I want to do for the rest of my life,” but it was totally the opposite for me.
I also learned a lot about customer service. You want to make sure customers are happy so they keep coming back! Smiling is so important. You don’t realize it but you can definitely hear when somebody has a smile on their face over the phone. I still remember my manager telling me that if you have a smile on your face, people will always treat you nicer – even if they are upset.
If you could have any super power what would it be and why?
I wish I could speak any language where any child could come up to me and speak their native language and I would just understand. I remember what it felt like for me going to a new school in a new place and not having anybody being able to understand or speak Spanish. I remember being full of anxiety and fear. If I could speak and understand any language, I could prevent that from happening to another child.
What do you do in your free time?
I read! I am a huge fan of romance novels. One of my favorite authors is Corrine Michaels. She writes a lot about military families.
Are you part of a military family?
Actually I wanted to be! I wanted to be a pilot – I was in JROTC for years. However, because I don’t have 20/20 vision I wasn’t able to become a pilot. So when I read, I get to live vicariously and learn about their experiences and their struggles. I find it really interesting.
What’s something community center patrons don’t know about you but you’d like to share with them?
My sister is 15 years younger than me! My mother was almost 16 years old when she had me so the age difference between my mom, my sister, and me is 15 – a 15 year gap between each of us. Even though there’s a large age gap, we all get along really well!
Also, most people don’t realize my first name is Arely! It’s okay, you can keep calling me Ms. Angel!