Lativa (Holder) Reyes '10 majored in philosophy and minored in mathematics at Union College before earning a Master of Arts and Master of Education from Teachers College, Columbia University, and a Master of Science from CUNY, City College. Today she is a senior director of programs for Saga Education, a non-profit organization that partners with the New York City Department of Education. Lativa supervises and manages 36 tutoring fellows, six instructional leaders, one director of programs and one operations manager in six NYC high schools across four boroughs. She has worked closely with several NYC public school principals and assistant principals to ensure that over 1,000 students receive high-dosage, personalized mathematics tutoring during school days. She has supervised both program implementation and instructional pedagogy. Throughout her tenure as an educator, school counselor, leader and manager, she has trained and developed over 100 educators – resulting in increased student attendance and achievement in some of the lowest performing NYC public high schools. Lativa is very dedicated to work and family. Her faith is also very important. She belongs to a women’s ministry called Ladies First Worldwide Seminars, which provides her with spiritual teaching and support as well as a network of successful women and friends.
What are the most challenging and rewarding aspects of your career or volunteer activities?
Even now as a program director, whenever I am in a classroom with students and I witness that “ah-ha” moment when a concept finally clicks, I am reminded why I do this work. All of our students – rich or poor, white or black – have what it takes to be great students and to find success both inside and outside of the classroom. Education is a gateway to unlocking pathways to achieving dreams and goals. Educators are the tour guides, helping and coaching students along the way.
What’s challenging is that the work is never done. For every “ah-ha” moment, there are several students who believe they don’t have what it takes. Unfortunately, sometimes, negative school experiences contribute to this belief. Breaking down these barriers and helping students to rebuild confidence – while simultaneously fighting the institutional practices that contribute to diminished self-worth and lack of access – is what makes this work most challenging.
Who inspired/inspires you, both professionally and personally?
Like the students the Kenney Community Center serves in Schenectady, I came from a low-income neighborhood with limited resources and access to education. With the help of special programs and committed educators, I was able to break through several barriers and become a first-generation college graduate in my family and in my community. Opportunity and access are often great predictors of educational trajectories. Students in underserved communities often have less access and thus less exposure to opportunity than those from other communities. I am inspired to work in education because I have seen, first-hand, the impact that access can have on a life. A student’s access should not be predetermined by her ZIP code. I am committed to being part of the change that ends educational inequity in America.
What advice would you offer today’s women students, not just at Union, but across the country?
Make waves. Ask questions. Try the unbeaten path. One of the things I really developed while at Union was my voice. As a philosophy major, I questioned everything and thought deeply about many societal constructs I had previously accepted without protest. If there’s something you want to do and no woman has ever done it, be the first. If there is a career path that interests you but no one has yet been able to balance it while also having a family, set a new precedent. Don’t feel limited by what has yet to be done, but rather use it as a motivator to propel yourself into the unknown.
What was your most formative experience at Union?
During my time at Union, I had work-study at the Kenney Community Center. It was through my work with the students of Schenectady that I developed a love for teaching. The impact of the time I spent at the Kenney Center working with students in the Homework Program has never left my heart. I am a passionate educator because I feel it is my mission to end educational inequity through access.