The students, who came to meet the NIU alum and have lunch as part of Souper Wednesday, learned that Vasquez faced a roadblock from coworkers and administration during her first education job because of office politics.
The early childhood educator has worked with children from poor and affluent families in the last seven years. Her first job was in Oak Park, Ill. Despite her success to involve parents and be an innovative teacher, Vasquez said, she didn’t focus enough on how to be a team player with staff.
After two years, she resigned from the job and quickly got a new one because of her reputation to make a difference with students. A Chicago principal hired her to start a bilingual early childhood program.
Her passion for changing the lives of children extended beyond the classroom.
Outside of work, Vasquez created a parenting program to help the low-income families improve their lifestyle. Through this program, she offered cooking and literacy classes and math games and went to families’ homes to find out what they were eating to improve nutrition. She also ran food and clothing drives to support them.
“Your children are only as strong as their families,” said Vasquez, who is now manager of the Chicago Child-Parent Center program and oversees 17 schools.
As a result of working with students in Africa, Chicago children and privileged students in Oak Park, Vasquez said, she realized that children are the same all over the world.
“They need love, they need focus and they need someone who is going to be passionate and put them first,” said Vasquez, who speaks Spanish and Italian.
NIU students walked away with a lesson that taught them that doing a great job requires collaboration, passion, listening skills, constant learning and smart decision-making.
Vasquez has received the legend award in early childhood education from Chicago Public Schools and is working on a doctorate in leadership education and curriculum design from the University of Phoenix.
She earned a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education with a special education emphasis from NIU in 2007 and then completed a master’s degree in literacy education with an endorsement in English as a second language.