Childhood Special Education '09
For years, I was always turning down leadership opportunities. I didn’t see myself that way—I was an educator, not a leader. I hadn’t matured enough as an individual, and I can see now that I needed those years in the classroom to strengthen and build that muscle before I could lead.
After years of teaching and career explorations in the field of education, Aundrea Tabbs-Smith is currently the emotional well-being coordinator at Friends Center for Children, helping provide affordable and high-quality early care and education in New Haven, Connecticut. In her role, Aundrea partners with families to enhance their child’s physical, social, emotional and educational development, providing educational and support services with the support of a supervising social worker and the administrative team.
When Aundrea was an undergraduate at Temple University, she briefly switched her major from education to business, questioning whether or not she wanted to become a teacher.
Aundrea said, “I tried to get interested in doing something else, by switching my undergraduate major, but quickly realized that the business world was not for me—I was listening to what I thought the world was telling me to do instead of where I knew I was supposed to be. It solidified my original thoughts, and I switched back to education because I knew that working with children would be my life’s work.”
After earning her bachelor’s degree in elementary and early childhood education, Aundrea understood that finding her place in the field of education required further exploration, so she enrolled at Bank Street and earned her master’s degree in Childhood Special Education in 2009.
For Aundrea, who describes herself as “the quiet one,” her career path has moved her in and out of classroom settings as she explored what role was right for her. After 12 years at the Rye Country Day School, where she taught first, third, and fourth grades and served as the lower school diversity coordinator, Aundrea moved out of the classroom to become the director of admissions at Waterside School, an Independent JK – 5 school in Stamford. As the Friends Center for Children expanded its reach with two new campuses, Aundrea then served as site director and HR associate for its East Grand center in the Fair Haven Heights community before landing in her current position there as emotional well-being coordinator.
Friends Center for Children, whose executive director, Allyx Schiavone, GSE ’94, is also a Bank Street alumni, strives to maintain best practices in early childhood education by nurturing the whole child and bringing together curriculum, teachers, parents and the larger community within a supportive, inspirational environment. It is nationally known for its pioneering emotional well-being curriculum for infants and toddlers that models and enhances the child-first practices that Allyx, like Aundrea, learned at Bank Street.
Aundrea said, “My experiences at Bank Street were some of the best, and because of our executive director, Allyx, they are reflected at Friends Center. Everything is intentional and child first here. In my work, I ask: How is the child feeling? Let’s try to tackle and manage that first, and then the academic part will come. As the emotional well-being coordinator, I’m someone who can acknowledge the quiet ones—because I was that quiet one, too. Even though a toddler may not be expressing or showing emotions in a big way, those feelings are still there—and they matter. Tapping into them with the child makes a difference in their learning and development.”
Aundrea admits she has always felt more comfortable around children than with adults and she also acknowledges that she had a hard time seeing herself as a leader.
She said, “I expected to be a classroom teacher for longer than I actually was. For years, I was always turning down leadership opportunities. I didn’t see myself that way—I was an educator, not a leader. I hadn’t matured enough as an individual, and I can see now that I needed those years in the classroom to strengthen and build that muscle before I could lead. Now it makes sense to me that I’m doing this work outside of a classroom. I’m still an educator, but the work I’m doing just has a different name.”