Wheaton College Norton, Massachusetts

Carissa Hanagriff

Carissa Hanagriff has helped to develop a preschool in East Boston from the ground up. Along with the parent-run board, she designed and remodeled the space and developed the school’s curriculum for 2- to 5-year-olds. She is now the director of the Harbor City School.

A school grows in Boston. A friend of mine had been dreaming of starting her own school, and last summer, she and a group of parents in her East Boston community started what became the board of directors of Harbor City School. When I heard they were seeking a director for the project, I couldn’t resist. I had just finished my master’s in elementary education at UMass Boston and was looking for a way to make an impact on the educational landscape in Boston. The prospect of helping to shape a school into what I believe to be an ideal setting for early education was totally exhilarating.

Finding myself. During my senior year, I participated in a program through the Filene Center that helped me narrow down my interests and ideals until I had a clear picture of what I wanted after college. I recall saying, “But I don’t want a real job. … ” Kay Gruder of the Filene Center helped me clarify what I meant, which was: I didn’t want a corporate job. I was seeking nonprofit positions without even knowing it. Through the Filene Center, I secured a position on the ’06-’07 AmeriCorps Team at Providence Children’s Museum.

Wheaton was where I learned how much I cared about education. I thought I didn’t like working with children, but when I said as much to Professor Andy Howard, he laughed at me, pointing out that I had been working with children my entire career at Wheaton. I was a founding member of Norton Youth Theater, I taught art at the Pinecroft School and I was a preceptor…. The patient advising of people like Professor Howard and Kay Gruder helped me understand what I had been ignoring inside myself.

Life lessons. I also learned firsthand that access to education is one of the biggest hurdles facing many kids in this country. I was fortunate enough to receive an enormous amount of financial aid, which is the only way I could attend Wheaton. It was a pivotal point in my life, and providing access to high-quality education is now one of my most important career goals. By our second year, I hope to be able to provide sliding scale tuition as well as scholarships at Harbor City School.