Palo Alto preschool teacher surprised by $10,000 award

Tra'Shell Reese is reading to children when presented with prize she'd never heard of

Palo Alto preschool teacher Tra'Shell Reese was reading a picture book to her class of 4- and 5-year-olds last week when she got the news she'd won a $10,000 "Early Child Educator Award" -- a prize she'd never heard of.

As the tears came, she turned to explain to the kids that, "these aren't sad tears, they're happy tears." A 4-year-old got up from the carpet to deliver her a hug and a Kleenex.

Reese, who lives in subsidized housing in Milpitas and uses a free VTA bus pass to get to work, is one of 12 teachers across the country this year to win $10,000 awards from the Children's Creative Learning Centers (CCLC). CCLC is a division of the global education company Knowledge Universe, which operates 3,000 schools in five countries, including preschools at Stanford University, on the campuses of technology companies like Electronic Arts and Cisco and before- and after-school care at local schools including Nixon Elementary School.

Reese plans to use her prize money to "take a class and get caught up on bills.

"The pay (for preschool teachers) is not always the best, but I enjoy every single day," she said of her job at Children's Creative Learning Center (CCLC) in Downtown Palo Alto, one of 10 CCLC centers on the Midpeninsula.

"I never go to work mad or upset.

"I remember that speech Steve Jobs said at Stanford a few years ago, that you've got to do what you love doing. That just melted me."

Sonya Ramsey, director of the CCLC center where Reese works, said her mailbox was flooded with appreciative emails about Reese when she put out a call for comments in connection with nominating Reese for the award.

"I kind of just wrote up what she does every day," said Ramsey, who said a senior administrator had asked her to nominate Reese for the award after she happened to observe her interacting with children.

"Tra'Shell just makes every person feel special when they walk into her classroom," Ramsey said. "Each individual child is special in their own way and she brings them to the next level."

Reese got interested in child-care work when the oldest of her three children -- now 24 and attending Santa Clara University on a volleyball scholarship -- was an infant.

"She was at the day care center and they told me she was eating chicken, but I was still nursing and I didn't want her eating chicken. So I decided to be a teacher so I could be around her, see her go through her new phases and her new experiences."

She went back to school to take 12 units of early childhood education at San Jose City College, which opened up a career in teaching that eventually led her to a decade at a Cisco on-site child care center and, three years ago, to the Palo Alto job.

In Palo Alto, she presides over an orderly, sun-filled second-floor classroom that includes a "science corner," a space for dramatic play, a cubby for each child and a space for art.

She writes a "daily snapshot" of each child for parents, documenting milestones. For example, kids play the "finger family song," wiggling their fingers to get the muscles in their hands ready to hold a pencil.

"The thing I like most is just seeing the reaction on the children's faces when you teach them something and they get excited about what you've just taught them," she said.

"You take honor in knowing you were a part of that -- and then the love they give you every day."

Reese, who's been teaching about 25 years, sometimes encounters people who say, "Hey, you were my preschool teacher.

"And I say, 'How do you remember that?' because I don't remember very much about my preschool (Headstart in East Palo Alto)."

In many cases it's because of the Power Point picture portfolios for each child that she learned to create while working at the Cisco child-care center. She put them on CDs, and gave them to children when they left.

The $10,000 prize money, she said, will allow her to finally finish her early childhood education credential, perhaps at Mission College near her home. "The first thing I want to do is go take a class," she said. "It seems easy now."

Sometimes Reese drives to work. But most mornings she gets there by taking connecting VTA buses.

If there's time once she gets to downtown Palo Alto, she prepares for the day by taking a walk around the neighborhood of the preschool.

"Literally, when I'm walking into work, kids are getting out of their cars and they cry out, 'Teacher Tra'Shell, Teacher Tra'Shell!'

"I really just love this job," she said.


Like this comment
Posted by Happy mom
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 7, 2013 at 9:39 pm

This is awesome news!!!! My kids were at CCLC when she got there. She always had a smile on her face. The kids (and parents) loved her!!! Great job!!!

Like this comment
Posted by Wendie
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 8, 2013 at 11:55 am

I am so not surprised that Tra'Shell won this prize! We were a long term family at CCLC but left right before she started. I heard from friends that she is awesome. The "perfect" preschool teacher! Congrats to you, Tra'Shell!

Like this comment
Posted by Lynnee
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 8, 2013 at 12:36 pm

Teacher Tra'Shell really is an amazing teacher. It brought tears to my eyes when I heard the great news. It's nice to hear the background here.

Like this comment
Posted by Hooray!
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 8, 2013 at 12:38 pm

This is wonderful news! Good to see someone rewarded for such good work. I only wish it could have been more

Like this comment
Posted by Misty Blue Eyes
a resident of another community
on Oct 8, 2013 at 4:57 pm

Why mention that she lives in subsidized housing. Just asking.

Like this comment
Posted by Cynthia
a resident of Egan Middle School (Los Altos)
on Oct 8, 2013 at 5:59 pm

This site is surprising me more and more! A positive story about someone from EPA! No negative comments? I can't! Times are changing, more and more positive in most articles, I love it! I am a little confused about her name, picture, residence along with her daily route, time stamped and all? Hope its not a setup. Not used to seeing that much info about anyone in a positive light? But thanks for sharing, makes me want to strive to be a better person, thanks again! Keep up the good work, Kudos!

Like this comment
Posted by Chris Kenrick, Palo Alto Weekly Staff Writer
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 8, 2013 at 10:05 pm

Misty Blue Eyes,

It was mentioned as a data point on the cost of housing in the area as well as on how our economy compensates people who do important jobs in the community.

Like this comment
Posted by grandma
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Oct 9, 2013 at 12:41 pm

i'm glad her housing was mentioned. it is a huge issue that the folks who keep our town going and attractive cannot afford to live here. ask any of the beat cops or we have any idea of the community (and intelligence a la 'learning community') that cannot evolve because huge sections of our so-called community do not BELONG here (and are often made to feel it in hundreds of little and big ways)? and are scattered from hither to yon and often dozens of miles from what we call 'home' for 16 hrs out of every 24? we need subsidized and/or affordable housing for those who keep us going as they do...this article, while a joyful piece of news, points to a reality that is sad if not shameful...

Like this comment
Posted by Unfortunately anonymous
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 9, 2013 at 1:26 pm

Unfortunately, for the sake of my children and family, I must post this comment anonymously. I personally carry no shame about our part in the incident I am about to describe involving this rewarded teacher.

I am glad others seem to have had a positive experience with this teacher. Unfortunately our experience was VERY different and caused us to leave the school. Her behavior combined with that of the center, was appalling. This was so unfortunate since we had been a LONG standing CCLC family and have referred many other families to the center. Thankfully we had many positive teachers at the center, with my daughter attending from 20 months through Pre-K and then my son from 18 months, until we had to pull him half way through Pre-K. [Portion removed due to containing unverifiable assertions.]

Like this comment
Posted by Nick Carraway
a resident of Community Center
on Oct 9, 2013 at 3:11 pm

Interesting that the last post was edited by staff due to "unverifiable assertions." I saw the comment before it was redacted and it raised some troubling assertions that we'd heard echoes of at CCLC for some time. Perhaps an opportunity for some investigative reporting to get to some real issues that perhaps aren't as comfortable (including reverse racism) in the wake of a puff piece?

Like this comment
Posted by Lauren
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 9, 2013 at 4:12 pm

I heard positive and negative about the teacher from the other families. I had my two children at the center. My only disappointment is there should be a recognition for the many other wonderful and hard-working teachers at Palo Alto and the other CCLC centers. One of my child is currently at another CCLC. Instead of just giving the $10,000 prize to one teacher, the prize should be split to other teachers. There are hard working teachers whom are not in subsidized and not take the bus to work but are still wonderful and caring teachers.Just makes me wonder why CCLC pick the teacher because of her status? Why would the article focus on her living? The article should focus on why she is picked as the Educator of the Year.

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Posted by David
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 9, 2013 at 4:39 pm

This is great news. Tra'Shell was a great role model and teacher for our child. Now in 1st grade she remembers Tra'Shell fondly. We cried when we left Tra'Shell's class on the last day at CCLC, she was that important to our little one. I agree that CCLC has many great teachers that should be honored.

Congrats, Tra'Shell.

Like this comment
Posted by Deb
a resident of Menlo Park
on Oct 9, 2013 at 5:01 pm


Nice to read something POSITIVE about a local black person in this source of news. Usually all we read about is shootings in EPA. Bravo!

Like this comment
Posted by Niomy
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Oct 9, 2013 at 9:51 pm

Congratulations Tra'Shell.

Like this comment
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Stanford
on Oct 12, 2013 at 10:00 am

In response to the "unfortunate anonymous" the situation that occurred with your son was very sad and Ms Trashell was very torn up about everything that occurred. She spent hours on the phone with me crying about the events because she wanted to make sure, she was doing the right thing for your little boy. It's sad that instead of looking at what was happening with him, you lashed out at her. Anyone who knows anything about child psychology would have done what she did and had you posted the entire story about what your son was doing than anyone would agree, there was something wrong there. When you pulled your son, she called me again crying not because she was worried that you we mad at her but because she was worried for your son. I really hope that you and your family looked further into that and not just tried to push it under the rug. It's so sad that you decided to come on here to speak negatively of this woman when your situations had her more emotionally distraught than any other situation she has ever experienced in her, more than 2.5 decades of working with children.

Like this comment
Posted by Unfortunately anonymous
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 15, 2013 at 10:52 am

Dear Anonymous,

I appreciate your reply, but I fear you do not have the whole story. I am sorry that you have a one sided story and since you know who I am, please feel free to reach out to me directly and I will be happy to explain the entire situation. I have NOTHING to hide. My son is thriving in kindergarten. We just had our parent teacher conference with our loving teacher, and the reviews were glowing. She commented on how she is so focused on making him feel welcome and safe, because she knows that he still struggles with what happened to him at CCLC, in that classroom. I will never understand how she could have come to the conclusions that she did, but I would welcome a chance to speak to you about me and my family to clear up any confusion. Just as we did at the time. [Portion removed.]

Like this comment
Posted by Tomer Shiran
a resident of Los Altos
on Oct 17, 2013 at 10:08 pm

Tomer Shiran is a registered user.

Our daughter was in Tra'Shell's class and we had a great experience. This award is well deserved. Congratulations!

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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