Alice Smith is graduating this year after leaving Lesley before completing her bachelor's degree in 2001.
When she left Lesley in the winter of 2001, Alice Smith thought she’d be back by the fall semester. She was just one term away from getting her bachelor’s degree in elementary education, but ongoing stress at home had left her drained and her bank account was approaching zero. Then, while in her first class of senior year, airplanes struck the World Trade Center.
“That kind of just sent me over the edge. Emotionally, I was done. I just couldn’t do it anymore,” she says.
After finals that winter, Smith packed up her dorm room on Mellen Street and spent what would have been her final semester at Lesley working as a substitute teacher instead.
“I had all intentions of coming back, but you get put into the real world,” she says.
To be fair, this wasn’t Smith’s first introduction to the real world. Growing up, she’d had a tough home life with frequent visits from the Department of Children and Families. Her father’s undiagnosed bipolar disorder and drug abuse led to tense and sometimes violent episodes.
Smith recalls the Christmas of her freshman year when her father became so unstable that she had to call the police. He spent a few days in jail, but when her mother failed to obtain a restraining order, he returned to their house.
“So, I had nowhere to live. I was essentially homeless,” she says. Dorms were closed, but Lesley connected her with older students who had a house near campus and an extra room where she could stay for the rest of the break.
“Those demons eventually catch up to you,” Smith says. “I tried to battle through, and I got all the way to my senior year.”
She says counselors were available to students on campus, but at the time, she wasn’t ready to face the trauma and anxiety.
Back in the classroom
Earning money as a substitute teacher and working with children was a reprieve for Smith. When summer came and primary schools closed, she found a job as an assistant teacher for toddlers at a daycare in Malden, Massachusetts, her hometown. Early childhood education had never interested Smith, but she says, “I fell in love with it and worked my way up the ladder.”
Smith did go back to school. This time to Bunker Hill Community College to get an associate degree in early childhood education, which gave her the schooling to become an executive director at a daycare — first at the YMCA, then directing several Little Sprouts schools, an early education company based in New England. From there, Smith helped establish a new branch of the Primrose Schools, an accredited early childhood school company, in Chelmsford.
She also got married and had a daughter, the first student enrolled at her Primrose School. While she loved her job, when Smith saw her toddler walk into a classroom where she would be taught by someone else, she decided it was time to take a break from her job.
“I was a toddler teacher, I got to do that for other people’s families and other people’s kids, and I wasn’t doing it for my own,” she says.
Smith took a job as a nanny, which allowed her to care for her own daughter while still earning an income. Then, the pandemic hit and in the tumult of lockdown, Smith suddenly decided it was time to finish what she’d started at Lesley two decades before.