Rebecca HardestyDSC_8087
Executive Director

Hello, my name is Rebecca Hardesty and I have been working with Smart Start Creative Learning Center since Newark opened in early 2010. I was introduced to Smart Start when my own son, Caleb, was 2 years old and attended the first Smart Start preschool.

I have been married to my husband Grant for 17 years and we are blessed with 3 children who keep us very busy. Caleb is 14, Connor is 13 and Olivia is 11.I have a Bachelor’s degree is Early Childhood Education and Master’s degree in Clinical Psychology. I have had the opportunity to work in many diverse settings, including Belmont Hills Psychiatric Hospital, San Mateo County Youth Diversion program, and several youth and family service organizations. I have over 18 years experience including my current position as Director for the past 6 years, teaching preschool, and providing counseling services to children and their families. In addition, I spent several years teaching Parenting Classes working for the reputable organization “the Parent Project”. Weekends we spend most of our time attending all the sporting events our kids are involved in. Soccer, Basketball, Cross Country, track etc., multiplied times 3 kids equals lots of running around from one thing to the next and traveling. I am incredibly grateful and thrilled to be involved with this program. Smart Start offers a unique learning environment that provides children opportunities to learn at their own pace in a joyful, fun and very creative environment. The teachers at Smart Start give 110% everyday and make sure each interaction with every child is meaningful. Smart Start staff challenge one another and your children to be the best they can be every day. I feel so fortunate to be a part of this exceptional program.

Gina Shelley
Hello, My name is Gina Shelley and I’m so honored to be a part of the Smart Start family. I personally have over 18 years experience in this field from parenting, coaching, teaching, running a home daycare, and now as a center Director.
I was born and raised in the bay area, Fremont to be exact. 21 years ago, I married my highschool sweetheart. We have been blessed with 3 amazing children. Rebecca is 18, Sierra is 16, and our son Brendan is 10.
Outside of work I am very involved in my children’s schools, PTA, sports leagues, and Girl Scouts. I am also very involved in my community and I’m a member of the Fremont Elks Lodge. My family enjoys the outdoors, so we do a lot of camping. We’re also Disney fanatics! As if that’s not enough my children and I are performers, we all enjoy singing for fun and competitively.
I am excited to work here at Smart Start with such a great team of teachers!

Maria (Lupe) IslasDSC_8022
Site Director

My name is Maria Islas. I am honored to be given the opportunity to work here at Smart Start. I have been working for Smart Start for a little over two years now. I have two children, Junior is 9 years old and Natalia is 8 years old. Before coming to Smart Start I was working . at Mission College Child Development Center where I attend school.  Mission College is where I received my certificate and my A.S. Degree in Child Development. I also have my Cosmetology license and am a freelance makeup artist. In my free time I like to do outdoor activities with my children and spend time with my family. I have many years of experience working with children. I’ve done babysitting, worked in preschools, also in elementary schools as a Bilingual Instructional Assistant, and am raising my own children. The reason why I chose to get my education in preschool is because I know that the first years in a child’s life are the most important. Preschool is where we set a foundation which helps us build who we are as adults and the success we will have in life. Knowing this, I find it very rewarding and would like to be part of that learning process in children’s lives.


Maria SanchezDSC_8115

I am so excited to join the Smart Start team! I am looking forward to all the fun times and wonderful experiences that await for us. Working with children has always been my passion. I’ve worked with children for about 4 years and I love it more and more each day. I am currently going to school to receive me degree in Early Childhood Studies and hoping to transfer to SFSU or UCLA. My ultimate dream is to become an elementary school teacher or work for a non-profit organization that works closely with low-income schools, and families that helps provide expanded learning opportunities and promotes positive youth development for children. I am a strong believer that children should be given the opportunity to grow and have no limits in learning.
A little more about myself; I am proud to be Mexican-American and excited to share my culture and language with the children. I love to play soccer I’ve played the sport for 11 years. I enjoy singing karaoke because it’s fun being silly sometimes and enjoy life a little more.
Lastly, I am excited to meet all of you I hope to create a strong bond with each and every one of you.


Andrea MendozaDSC_8073

My name is Andrea Mendoza, This is my 3rd year being part of this wonderful Smart Start team!
I enjoy coming into work everyday and making a difference in each child’s life. I graduated from Heald College in Medical Office Administration. I first came into Smart Start as an aid and to help around the school. The whole team welcomed me and encouraged me to keep going and finish my Early Childhood Studies to become a full time teacher. I couldn’t be happier working with this positive and loving environment.

A little more about myself, I was born and raised in Hayward but moved to Oceanside in 2008. I’ve been married since 2010 and my husband was in the military for 7 years. We were moved a lot and lived in Oceanside, South Carolina and Pennsylvania but after he got out of the service, we decided to make California our permanent home. We do not have any children but we do have a 5 year old English Bulldog. I enjoy spending time with my family & friends, traveling, and watching football. I am excited to be a part of this wonderful school and build a relationship with the children and families!

Serrina RuelasDSC_8031

My name is Serrina Ruelas. I started here at Smart Start my junior year of high school for Fremont Mission Valley ROP where I took Early Childhood Studies. I happen to come across Smart Start as a place for my  internship and to continue to build my work experience hours. After graduating Newark Memorial in 2015, I was offered a full time position and I’ve been here ever since.

I’m continuing my education at Ohlone College. From there I hope to transfer to SJSU or SSU to study Early Childhood Studies and minor in Automotive Engineering but also continue to play Lacrosse. I’m a sister of 4 children and Newark has been our home for the past 15 years. I enjoy being outdoors. In my free time I like to hike, spend time with my family and make weekend getaways.

I’m excited to work with such a great staff that feel like a family of my own!  My hope is to continue to learn and educate from those around me.

Norma VazquezDSC_8009

Hello, my name is Norma Vazquez and I have been working with young children since 2004. I joined Smart Start Learning Center in January 2018 as a substitute teacher, helping  in all the classrooms. I recently became a permanent teacher and I am very happy to be part of this great school. I currently hold an AA degree in ECE studies and a teacher permit from the CTC. In addition, as a way to keep my knowledge fresh and learn new tips and ideas, I enroll myself in ECE workshops through 4C’s and Child Care links. In the future, (hopefully soon) it is my dream to continue my education to obtain a Bachelor’s degree. I was born in Mexico but I came to this country many years back and since then, I have lived in Redwood City, Hayward and I now reside in Newark. I am married and have two children. In my spare time I enjoy reading, cooking, exercising and taking walks with my family and my French bulldog, Lucy.

Perla Chavez GonzalezDSC_8104

Hello my name is Perla Chavez, and I have the great pleasure to have started working at Smart Start on February 2019. I am extremely happy to have joined the Smart Start team. I am currently finishing up my credits for my associate’s degree in child development at Ohlone college. I love working with children and have done so since a very young age. I’ve always have had a passion for teaching and I am so thankful to have been given this opportunity. I was born in Mexico and lived there until I moved to Newark in 2002 and have lived here ever since. I’ve been married since 2016 and love to travel. I enjoy watching movies and listening to music. Family is very important to me and I hope to one day have children of my own. I hope to gain as much as experience as I can and to make a difference in your children’s lives.