Some people discover their true passion early in life. For others, like Raissa Lee, it takes a little longer. She happened on her love of early childhood education a decade ago, after being laid off from her job in the finance industry. Irvine Valley College helped her along her journey, giving her the knowledge needed to grow in her new role as a home-based preschool owner and director.
The road to her current career - and her stop at IVC - was a long one. Though she always wanted to be a teacher, Lee said she pursued a bachelor’s degree in International Relations at UC Davis, which was more aligned with her parents’ expectations. She earned the degree in 1999 and went to work as an International Portfolio Accountant for Barclays Global Investors. Before long, the desire to teach resurfaced. She returned to college to become a teacher, earning her Multiple Subject Teaching Credential and Bilingual, Cross-Cultural, Language, and Academic Development Authorization in Mandarin at CSU Fullerton. Lee married and landed a job teaching fifth grade, when in her first year, she learned that she would be laid off due to district budget cuts. This led Lee back to the finance world for eight years - until 2011, when the company she was working for outsourced her job.
Lee found herself at home with two young children at the time and faced with the difficult decision of returning to finance, in jobs that would require long commutes and limit her time with her family. A friend suggested she could supplement her family income by caring for an infant from their church. That was the beginning of what would blossom into the ABC Mom Learning Center & Childcare, a state-licensed, home based early education program with a focus on dual language learning (Mandarin and English) and STEM. In the early years of her program, as she immersed herself in learning about early childhood education, Lee recalls having a conversation with a preschool operations director who recommended she take early childhood education classes at Irvine Valley College.
Lee enrolled in the college’s Child Development program in spring 2016 and took eight courses through fall 2017, including Infant/Toddler Development; Socialization of the Child-Child, Family, Community; Child Guidance and Discipline; and Practicum: Early Childhood Programs. Lee enjoyed the intimacy that came with smaller class sizes, which allowed the professors to engage more with students and greater interaction among student peers.
“The professors were amazing and very caring,” Lee said. “They’re passionate, and they’re knowledgeable. They are educators who are actively working and engaged in the field and know what students need to effectively serve young children and families in early education.”
Donna King, chair of the Human Development Department, recalls Lee as someone with a passion for doing excellent work.
“She was a full-time mother of three boys running a successful early care and education business, yet she was excited to see how she could grow as a professional during a demanding practicum placement,” King recalled. ”She not only welcomed the challenge of adding more ‘on-the-floor-with-children’ time while learning from a mentor in the field, but she also contributed amazing support for her fellow students.”
Lee’s home-based preschool serves as a site for IVC student teachers.
Her IVC courses transferred to CSU Fullerton, where she earned a master’s degree in education in 2020, with recognition as an outstanding graduate. In addition to her dedication to her early education program, she is also putting all her education and early childhood experience to work through various projects. Lee is helping to develop curriculum for other educators focused on wellness and trauma-informed practices, and she recently launched the ABC Mom Podcast to share information and experiences about early learning, among other projects, including a free virtual parenting book club to strengthen families.
Her dedication to the field is being recognized: She received a 2021 Outstanding Professional Award from the Orange County Association for the Education of Young Children, as well as a California Legislature Assembly, “Certificate of Recognition,” which was presented in 2020, in recognition of her “Service and Contributions” to the 68th Assembly District of California.
Lee has much more to give to the field and wants to help elevate the roles of early childhood educator by ensuring early childhood teachers receive the education, training and support they need to “partner with their teaching team, community partners, students, and families to effectively navigate, persevere through, and thrive within challenging teaching situations.” She would like to see more rigorous training requirements and higher pay for early childhood educators to attract and retain quality early educators in the field, for the consistency of early education programs, young learners, and families everywhere.
“A significant reason why I got my master’s [degree] is I hope to become a professor at a community college someday because I believe it really provides a wonderful bridge to continue education after high school and hopefully inspire early education students to continue on, in addition to helping working adults receive the education they need to transition to new careers,” Lee said.
To learn more about IVC’s early childhood education courses visit the Child Development program page.