Joel Rhea, Director
Joel has served as an educator for over twenty years, first as a bilingual teacher, then in grade school administration. He has taught kindergarten and middle school, and been an assistant principal, principal and assistant superintendent. He holds two masters degrees in educational leadership and curriculum and instruction and is currently a doctoral candidate. Joel joined Pilgrim in the Spring of 2016.
I began my Pilgrim career in February of 1993. I have an Associates degree in Early Childhood Education. I have previous teaching experience in Montessori School, Mom and Tot Classes, Preschool, Summer Day Camp and ten years running a Licensed Home Day Care. My out of school interests include music and theatre - mostly involving my children - as well as sewing and gardening. I truly enjoy being a grandma.
I have been teaching at Pilgrim since August 2000. Prior to that, I taught special education classes in various middle and elementary schools in Chicago and Florida. I have a degree in Special Education called a Learning Behavior Specialist degree. I am originally from Brooklyn, NY and every now and then you can hear the accent in my voice. I love that because many people comment about it, so it's a great conversation starter! My family and I enjoy traveling. One of our favorite trips was biking in Ireland with some friends.
I have been involved with Pilgrim since 2003. Like many others my journey at Pilgrim began when my youngest son started preschool in the Square Room. My philosophy in teaching is meeting the child where he/she is at and making learning fun! My educational background is in early childhood education and therapeutic recreation. I have worked at many local early childhood settings including Parenthesis, Partners in Play and Maryville Crisis Nursery. In my free time I enjoy spending time with my family, reading, going to movies and crafting.
I was a nanny for a wonderful Oak Park family for six years who have two girls that attended Pilgrim. I was fortunate enough to get to know a lot of the Pilgrim staff before I began my career here in 2011. I started in the Rectangle room as an aide and now I'm also teaching in the afternoon. I studied early childhood education at Triton College and Northeastern Illinois University. In my spare time I enjoy running, baseball games, and traveling. I often visit my sisters and mom in Arizona.
Coming to Pilgrim in 2000 was a great place for me to continue with my teaching career! With a background in elementary education and a BS in Psychology, I especially love teaching young children. It is amazing to see how much growth occurs from the beginning of the year to the end! I am an avid runner. I also enjoy bike riding, reading and working in my yard. My family spends a lot of time in Florida. We love the beach and all the water activities that go along with it!
I have been a classroom teacher at Pilgrim since 2010. I have always loved interacting with children and took courses in child development while attending Tufts University where I received my B.A. in Clinical Psychology and German Area Studies. I also received a Masters in Social Work from Boston University where my studies focused on work with children and families. Prior to the birth of my eldest son, I worked as a Family Support Specialist for Aspire Children's Services serving children ages 0-3 years with developmental delays and disabilities and their families. My other experiences working with young children include volunteering in a German Waldorfschule, internships at a children's rehabilitation hospital and a therapeutic day school, and teaching Sunday School.
In my free time, I enjoy doing all sorts of craft projects, reading, traveling, and playing the piano.
I have taught at Pilgrim since 1983, with two years off for the birth of my youngest child. I have a BS in Early Childhood Education from the University of Illinois, as well as an Illinois K-9 teaching certificate. I also taught first grade in Kankakee and Hazelcrest for five years and gym and swim classes at the Oak Park YMCA. I was a Beye School room parent for twenty years and a Girl Scout leader for eleven years. I have three adult children; all of them were Pilgrim students.
I graduated from the University of Wisconsin with a B.S. degree that included my certification to teach high school. My children came to school at Pilgrim and I soon followed. The staff and the families we work with make Pilgrim a place you want to stay - I started teaching here in 1984. I am proud to be a part of Pilgrim because it is wonderful place for children to grow and learn. In recent years I have been able to travel to New Zealand, Australia, Ireland, Mexico, Turkey and Thailand and hope to do some more traveling soon.
The theater had been my chosen profession since childhood. I studied and worked as an actor for many years, including workshops at Second City and as an Actor in Residence for the City of Chicago. After having children, I became a teacher. These two life loves have a strong connection for me. My training as an actor has informed my teaching by increasing my listening skills, flexibility, and the ability to observe behavior and think on my feet. My training in Early Childhood Education has made me a better and more sensitive theater instructor/director because of a deeper understanding of child development and my desire to create child centered theater collaborations that meet each participant "where they are". I have been delighted to be 'where I am" at Pilgrim since 1994. I love our community and I am continually thrilled when I see young children making connections with each other, with experiences, and with ideas.