Happy Women's History Month

Women Leaders Reflect on the Value of Education and Mentorship

AdoptAClassroom.org is proud to celebrate our women leaders and the women who inspired them. According to NCES, 76% of teachers in the US are women. As a women-led organization, we work to empower women as educators and experts in their field.

We asked Executive Director Ann Pifer, Board Chair Jen Swanson, and Executive Vice President of Corporate Partnerships Carolyn Aberman to share what inspires them to support AdoptAClassroom.org’s work and about the women who led the way for them.

Why did you join AdoptAClassroom.org?

Ann: I joined AdoptAClassroom.org for a couple of reasons. Growing up, I had the opportunity to attend a great school that had plenty of resources – the teachers were positive and focused on helping students learn, and the students were excited to be there and find ways that they could achieve in school. The education I got at that school changed the course of my life, and I am grateful for that. I believe that every child should be able to experience a positive learning environment where they have the opportunity to learn and succeed. I know that is not the case in many schools today. Many of my friends are teachers. I know what a hard job it is under the best of circumstances, and it is unimaginably hard when you don’t have the resources you need to do your job and to support your students’ learning. Working at AdoptAClassroom.org gives me an opportunity to do something immediately to address those disparities. Kids deserve a fair chance to succeed in school! 

Jen: I joined the board of AdoptAClassroom.org because I felt passionately about education. I have two young kids in elementary school. I was seeing how hard it was for our teachers to get the things they needed so they could help our kids become the people they were meant to be. The fact is that our schools are often underfunded and teachers oftentimes lack the basics to ensure every kid has what they need to learn. I love that AdoptAClassroom.org rallies people around that idea of equipping teachers so that the kids have what they need to be successful. 

Carolyn: I believe education is a pathway out of poverty. Even when my ancestors immigrated from eastern Europe and Russia at the turn of the twentieth century, they knew that education could give their children a better life than they had. My parents raised me and my brothers the same way. They valued and encouraged us to pursue a higher education for a better life. 

When my three children went through our public school system I saw firsthand the inequity between the schools in our district. The schools in socioeconomically challenged neighborhoods, often comprised of children of color, really lacked the funding and resources they needed to get the teachers and students the tools to be successful in school. And today the situation is only getting worse. The achievement gap is widening, particularly this past year, during the pandemic and with distance learning.

Who are the women leaders who influenced or helped you?

Ann: In my personal life, I’d have to start with my mother. A doctor, an entrepreneur, independent businesswoman, world explorer, and private pilot. There was nothing she thought she couldn’t do if she set her mind to it. I’m forever grateful to her for being that inspiration for me. It caused me to not question what I could do in the world if I chose to. After that, I would have to think about my professors and peers at Smith College, a women’s college. So many strong, women leaders have come out of Smith and are my friends who have gone on to accomplish amazing things in the world. They have been an endless source of support and inspiration for me throughout the years. I am forever grateful for that network of strong women who have been with me since my college years. 

Jen: I have several teachers who were really influential in my life. They were sort of bookends. They taught me two very different lessons in my life, but they are things that I lean on every day. The first is Ms. Wilkins, she was my 2nd and 3rd grade teacher. Every year, she would give us a project where we would place our fingerprints on pieces of stationary and decorate them with line drawings to turn them into animals. We would give them to our parents for Valentine’s Day or Mother’s Day. That was a really special little gift. It taught me that there’s a lot of creativity in this world and, sometimes, it’s the little things that matter most. My mom, who’s in her 70s, still has that stationary in her drawer and looks at it regularly to remember the day when I was a wee one. That is bookended by Dr. Elizabeth Beck, a professor and mentor of mine in college. She taught me what it meant to be fierce and live your life the way that you want to. I watched her live out loud and be unapologetically herself. I thought, “Well that is the life I want for myself.” I have tried to live up to that on a daily basis. In fact, for graduation, she gave me a paperweight and I have it on my desk right here. It says, “To Jen, a woman of great promise.” I really do try to live up to that every day.

Carolyn: So many female colleagues have helped me shape my career. My colleague Gail actually gave me my career. I had taken several years off to start my family. When I was ready to come back full time, I contacted Gail. We had worked together previously, but now she was in a senior leadership role at Target. Gail had vision. She was less concerned about the gap in my resume coming off the Mommy Track, and more interested in my leadership skills and what I could bring to the table. She actually asked me to start the Brand PR team at Target. At the time I didn’t have any PR experience, but she knew that I had what it took to build a strong practice and manage a team of PR experts to represent the brand. I’m not sure a man would have seen it in that same way. 

This Women’s History Month, we are grateful to all of the women leaders helping to prepare the next generation of leaders in the classroom or in the workplace. To learn more about AdoptAClassroom.org’s team, click here.