Returning to the Mission of Milton and Catherine Hershey
Honored and thrilled to return to her Milton Hershey School (MHS) roots to honor the legacy of Milton and Catherine Hershey. Those are the words of Catherine Hershey School for Early Learning, Harrisburg Assistant Director and MHS Alumna Chantal Rukundo-Karaara. Chantal says a large part of who she became is due to the generosity of the Hershey’s legacy as well as her MHS teachers and houseparents who supported her mother in raising her and instilled MHS’ four sacred values by which she strives to live. Those values are commitment to mission, integrity, positive spirit, and mutual respect.
After graduating from MHS, Chantal attended the University of Maryland. She started focusing on elementary education but shifted to sociology because she desired to learn more about why society operates the way it does and knew it would better inform her goal to work with children. Starting as an assistant preschool teacher, she worked up to become a director and continued to work in early childhood education (ECE), and took on roles working with parents, including teenage parents.
Chantal entered the field of ECE because of her joy in children. She said, “In short, because nothing can turn your day around faster than the sound of children’s unbridled laughter.” As an MHS graduate, she was afforded the opportunity to thrive in all high-quality learning environments. When she left MHS, she learned that this was not the case for all children, especially our youngest generation. She quickly concluded that she needed to immerse herself in the ECE field to promote equity and empowerment for all children, no matter their circumstances. Coming from a diverse community, Chantal understands the importance of inclusion and the need to support all children, and their families – a key component of CHS’ mission.
Eventually, Chantal’s journey led her back to Hershey, Pennsylvania, to serve as CHS Harrisburg’s assistant director. In her role, Chantal wants to leave a long-lasting impact on CHS children and their families, wanting them to feel valued, nurtured, and empowered to grow and glow in their community. She looks forward to witnessing and connecting with that innate sense of wonder and joy as the children and families enter CHS Harrisburg for the first time. She also looks forward to working alongside a talented and passionate group of professionals, making a difference in the lives of children, their families, and the broader Harrisburg community.
When asked what her advice would be for someone looking to enter the field, she said, “Connect with children in various capacities. Volunteer or work at your local library, become a camp counselor and make reading to the children in your life a priority. Commit to being a lifelong learner and stay knowledgeable on the latest brain science as it relates to ECE.”
CHS Harrisburg is currently seeking individuals to join the mission. While the location isn’t opening until 2024, those hired will begin CHS’ professional development program this fall. The nearly-year-long paid program will expand their knowledge in ECE, build strong team dynamics, and allow them to fully integrate into the CHS mission. The topics covered include ECE foundations, curriculum and assessment, family success, and health and safety.
“With our team, I can’t wait to put into action all the growth, learning, and intentionality our professional development program will have afforded us. I can’t wait!” – CHS Harrisburg Assistant Director Chantal Rukundo-Karaara
Chantal’s passion for and dedication to serving children and families is evident, as is her appreciation for the legacy of Milton and Catherine Hershey. We at Catherine Hershey Schools for Early Learning cannot be more thrilled about her decision to return to her roots.