Fifteen months after becoming a mother, she enrolled in the online Master of Education in Educational Leadership and Management program at Fitchburg State University.
Anderson is in her sixth year as a pre-kindergarten teacher in a dual-language (English and Spanish) program at the Mario Umana Academy in East Boston.
“Finding good leadership is hard,” she said. “I honestly don’t know if I would want to do it — especially in the city. But I figured that understanding what should be done would be a good thing.
“Since I got my bachelor’s degree in special education, I didn’t need to take more classes and have additional curriculum in that area. I’ve already done a practicum. So, I decided to go this route.”
As a young mother, Anderson had to have the flexibility of the online format to return to college. She wanted to have time to spend with her husband, Jean Melbourne, and their daughter, Iona, while maintaining a full-time job.
“Fitchburg State came to my school a couple of years ago to tell us about this program,” she said. “It seemed like it was feasible. Going places for school was not an option. I also knew it was a real university.
“The convenience and the fact that the program was pretty much made for teachers already was nice. Also, it’s a state university that’s not far away. It seemed convenient.”
So far, so good. Through three courses in the program, Anderson has struck a balance with everything she has going on in her life.
“The classes I have taken so far have been different in terms of workload,” she said. “Iona goes to bed early enough that it’s manageable. It’s usually per-week assignments, plus the expectations for the discussion board.
“It’s all reasonable, for sure. Not having to be in a certain place at a certain time is big. I usually spend between eight and 12 hours per week on the program.”
Anderson grew up on Cape Cod, where she developed an early love of helping children develop life skills.
“I wanted to be a teacher for as long as I can remember,” she said. “I started to teach younger kids when I worked at summer camps.”
After graduating with a bachelor’s degree from Lesley University in 2012, Anderson began her career in the classroom.
She had never taken an online course before enrolling at Fitchburg State, but she didn’t miss a beat after starting the program in Fall 2019.
“You check in weekly, which was weird for me to get used to at first,” she said. “But I got acclimated to it quickly. Everyone at the university is good about getting back to me any time I have a question.”
So far, EDLM 8034: School-Community Partnerships and EDLM 8032: Strategies for Effective Administrators are Anderson’s favorite courses in the online M.Ed. in Educational Leadership and Management program.
“The material in the community course was interesting,” she said. “Effective leadership was also interesting. The professor was very good. We had video chats every week and everything was organized. You knew you were in the loop. I use my school as an example for everything I am learning.”
Even though Anderson is still in the early stages of the program, she is seeing other long-term benefits of continuing her higher education.
“Even if I never officially do leadership, frankly, the degree will help my paycheck,” she said. “It also gives me a chance to have regular jobs in the short term. If you can manage a school, there are lots of things you can manage.”
Like Daughter, Like Mother
Anderson is on track to graduate from the online M.Ed. in Educational Leadership and Management program by December 2021. She is taking one course at a time.
“I think a lot about leadership when it comes more to early childhood,” she said. “In Boston Public Schools, they have early education centers that go from Pre-K to second grade. That’s something I would consider administrating.
“They also have integrated preschools and other programs. So, I’d like to maybe do something administrative but leaning more toward family outreach and early childhood.”
Once graduation day arrives at Fitchburg State, Anderson plans to be on stage in cap and gown to celebrate her big accomplishment with her family.
“That would be fun,” she said. “I can dress up and get everyone together. My family and friends are excited for me.”
That’s especially true of her mother, Norma Jean, who is also enrolled in a master’s degree program at another university.
“She became a teacher later in life and has been teaching for six years,” Anderson said. “She teaches culinary arts at Nauset Regional High School.”
Anderson looks forward to both of them completing master’s degree programs and to learning as much as she can about educational leadership.
“You have to be willing to have the time for the program and look at the full course load,” she said. “If you go week-by-week, you could end up in the weeds a little bit. If you see it all at first and check in, you’ll be all right.”
That’s good perspective.