Joel Rhea, Director
I have served as an educator for over twenty-five years, first as a bilingual teacher, then in grade school administration. I have taught kindergarten and middle school, and have been an assistant principal, principal and assistant superintendent. I hold two masters degrees in educational leadership and curriculum and instruction. I am currently a doctoral candidate. I joined Pilgrim in the Spring of 2016. I love coaching, traveling and hanging out with my family.
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 I also taught 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 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.
I began teaching in the Circle room in 2017, but like many of the staff, my first encounter with Pilgrim was as a parent when my youngest daughter was in the Square room. As a licensed clinical social worker I’ve had the opportunity to work with families and children for many years in a variety of different capacities. I love the magic of early childhood and watching how children grow and prosper through play. I live in Oak Park with my family, including my three children and a lovable boxer named Hobbes. We love to travel the National Parks, hiking and exploring different parts of our 50 states. I also love to cook/bake, read and knit in my free time!
I received an interdisciplinary B.A. in creative writing and early childhood education from Columbia College Chicago in 2015. Before joining the Pilgrim team in 2017 I worked as a foster care case manager and as a teacher in various Pre-K and after school programs around Chicago and Madison, WI. Being a native Wisconsinite I love UW men’s and women’s hockey, cabins and cheese curds. I also love my house plants and truly adore seeing how children thrive in supportive, creative, play-based environments like Pilgrim.
My Pilgrim journey started in 1977 as a student in “The Big Room”. (Now the Square and Diamond Rooms.) I returned in the nineties teaching in the summer program and then in the “Fireplace Room”. (Now the Diamond Room.) I studied early childhood education at Elmhurst College and have taught in several other local programs including at Keystone Montessori, the OPPD preschool program, and in the River Forest Public Schools. Both of my children attended Pilgrim and my family’s connections to the school are too many to list here. (I’ll happily share them if you ask!) Pilgrim is where my passion for early childhood education was kindled and it is a privilege to work with the dedicated and talented staff. It is my deepest honor to support, challenge, and nurture the students of Pilgrim Community Nursery School.
I've been in the Early Childhood Education field for about 5 years. I started teaching at Pilgrim at the beginning of the 2017/18 school year. Before I came to Pilgrim, I was a co-teacher at WSTHZ Preschool in River Forest. I studied Early childhood education at Triton College. I'm currently continuing my studies at Northeastern University.
My three kids have all attended pilgrim, so I have been part of the pilgrim community since 2012. Prior to having kids, I worked in Early Childhood for over 10 years, mostly with toddlers and 2 year old. Having had the pleasure of being home with my kids for the last 6 years, I found Pilgrim to be the perfect segue back into the world of early childhood. I graduated from Denison University where I obtained a BA in Psychology. I have a passion for the outdoors and always love a good adventure. You will always find me, and my kids; hiking the dunes of Indiana, traveling to National Parks, swimming, paddle boarding, kayaking or biking. When it comes to being a mother and a teacher I agree that, “Learning is their journey. Let them navigate. Push them to explore. Watch them discover. Encourage their questions. Allow them to struggle. Support their thinking. Let them Fly.”