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Meet Aiyauna Terry, Director of UPK and Preschool

Updated: Oct 23, 2023

Aiyauna Terry’s story of over two decades with the same employer would be hard to believe at most jobs, but not at Ellis. She arrived 21 years ago as a 20-year-old classroom assistant without a college degree. She stayed all this time, like others who fell in love with Ellis and is now both a Director and an Ellis parent with a four-year-old daughter in the Patriots room.

Although Aiyauna did not feel a calling early in life to work with young children, a job with a contracting agency placed her at Ellis and changed her life. After becoming a preschool classroom assistant, Aiyauna first found her mission in building rapport with parents. “I have lots of empathy,” she says, “and I loved helping parents build a bridge between home and school, helping them understand how the kids’ activities are directly tied to the skills they’re developing, especially for children who are differently abled.”

Her Ellis experience inspired Aiyauna to get her certificate at Bunker Hill Community College, and before long, Ellis hired her outright. After two months, she became a full-fledged teacher.

Aiyauna was fortunate to land in a preschool classroom because she has a particular affinity for children at that age. She fondly calls them “little people with big ideas,” and she thrives on helping them develop their mental, emotional, and physical skills. Aiyauna was also fortunate when her classroom was chosen to participate in a Boston Public Schools (BPS) pilot. She excelled taking part in the development of a new education- and skills-based curriculum, which has grown and become an established part of Ellis’s program.

Then, when a Director of Education position opened in the Infants and Toddlers area, Aiyauna was quick to seize the opportunity. “I’m a natural leader because I relate to people. It wasn’t hard to get staff to trust and follow me.” She also credits her success to being open and genuine with parents. “I don’t feed fluff just to keep people happy, and that helps make me a successful supervisor. People know they can trust what I tell them,” Aiyauna says.

As wonderful as this transition was for both Aiyauna and Ellis, soon after taking on this new role, Covid hit. During this time, classes were regularly short-staffed, and Aiyauna was needed back in the classroom while also learning her new management job. Then, Ellis closed for over three months. Throughout that time, Aiyauna helped develop activities and curriculum for parents and children to do remotely at home.

Aiyauna has kept steady on all fronts. She’s grateful for the mentoring she got from Maria Teixeira, an adjunct at UMass Boston (formerly with Ellis), who offered guidance for success. “When we met weekly, and Maria gave me tools but also emphasized my autonomy. That was the best combination for me to work with.”

The best parts of Aiyauna’s career development have now come together. Since August 28, 2023, she has been Director of Education for UPK and preschool classrooms. “I’m back in my old stomping ground,” Aiyauna says with delight. “I’m looking forward to building relationships with staff and family and to developing new opportunities for family engagement.”

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