Rebecca Hardesty
Executive DirectorScreen Shot 2018-01-09 at 11.32.45 AM

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.

Maria (Lupe) Islas
Site DirectorScreen Shot 2018-01-09 at 11.33.40 AM

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 workingat 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.


Noreen Valenzuela
Assistant Director, TeacherScreen Shot 2018-01-09 at 11.33.58 AM

My name is Noreen Valenzuela and I am so thankful for being part of this Smart Start team. I love that I found a place where I enjoy coming to work everyday! I have been teaching in the classroom for 10 years and as Assistant Director here at Smart Start for the past six years. I obtained my teaching and Director’s certifications through Chabot and California College. I decided to make a career change and go back to school after I had my second daughter and didn’t want to go back into the medical billing field after my maternity leave. I can truly say I have the most rewarding and fulfilling job working directly with our future generations. I have built many friendships through my journey as a teacher and have met fantastic students, parents and co-workers. I strive to make my class a silly, hands on, learning environment that every child would want to comeback to everyday as I do.

Smart Start is a place I take so much pride in because I remember all the tears from students and parents from our opening day February 10th 2010 and the start of every school year after that. It’s amazing to see the transformation they go through by the time the school year ends. As a parent myself, I know how important the line of communication and trust it takes to choose the right pre school for our children. I had the same feelings of anticipation and stress looking for the perfect school for my children’s needs as many of our parents feel today. I believe Smart Start created such a strong fun loving community feel since that opening day back in 2010 and that culture can still be felt today. Many of us as teachers are parents ourselves and know the important role we play in your child’s life, the great deal of responsibility and sense of security many families need to make this program a success.

As a mother of two growing girls, I see the value of structure, compassion, creativity, explorationand academics in the classroom, that is Smart Start’s philosophy and that is why I feel this is the right place for me. I enjoy camping, bike riding, reading, watching the cooking channel and of course watching football (49ers) and soccer (San Jose Earthquakes) with family and friends. My dream would to be able to have my own cook book one day!

Maria Sanchez
TeacherScreen Shot 2018-01-09 at 11.33.50 AM

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 Mendoza
TeacherScreen Shot 2018-01-09 at 11.33.03 AM

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!

Kim Caton
TeacherScreen Shot 2018-01-09 at 11.33.22 AM

Hello, my name is Kim Caton. I have been a child care provider for 23 years. I am a native of Newark. I am currently attending college in pursuit of a degree in Education. I have an established reputation as a childcare professional in the Newark community. I have been active in the sport of soccer as a player and a coach. Most recently, I have coached for KidzLoveSoccer a local youth program. I am thrilled for the opportunity to be a part of the Smart Start teaching team. I strive to be a positive influence on children by providing a safe, comfortable environment for them to grow and flourish. My teaching philosophy fosters development for the whole child; social, emotional, physical, creative, and cognitive. My passion for teaching young children comes from being a kid at heart myself. My favorite place to be is the happiest place on earth.

Serrina Ruelas
TeacherScreen Shot 2018-01-09 at 11.34.07 AM

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.


Karissa Stonich

Hello my name is Karissa Stonich and I am so honored to be part of the Smart Start family once again. In 2014 I was an intern here in the Explorers’ classroom while in high school. Now three years later I am back and couldn’t be happier. I come from a huge family and have lived in Newark my whole life. My family is very important to me and they have influenced and molded me into the loving and caring person I am today. I am currently a student at San Francisco State University, pursuing my degree in Liberal Studies with a teacher’s emphasis and double minoring in Education and Special Education. As you can see, school is a major part of my life in one way or another. In my spare time I enjoy hiking, going to new places, family time, and traveling.


Breanna Nordholm
TeacherScreen Shot 2018-01-09 at 11.33.10 AM

My name is Breanna Nordholm and this is my first year working for Smart Start Creative Learning. I was hired on as the Discoverers TK teacher here. I have about 10 years experience working with children in a variety of settings. I have been a nanny, a student staff and lead staff in preschools serving children ages 3 months to 5 years.  I received my Bachelors degree in Child Development from California State University, Chico in May of 2016. While at Chico state I had over 200 internship hours at different facilities offering services to children and families. My philosophy is that children are smart, creative and independent human beings that need loving adults as mentors and guides on their journey to greatness. I try to teach all the students I work with to be self-sufficient and responsible as well as caring and honest. Working with youth is my passion and I am so excited to be a part of the Smart Start team! 

I grew up in Carpinteria, CA which is a very small beach town located just outside Santa Barbara. I am the eldest of 4 children by 8, 11, and 13 years respectively. My family and I are very close and we see each other as often as we can. I moved to the bay area in 2010 and it has been home ever since. I currently live in Hayward with my boyfriend. In my free time I enjoy spending time with my friends and boyfriend hiking, going to the beach, trying new restaurants and traveling. I like watching sports baseball, basketball and football; my favorite teams are the SF Giants, GS Warriors and Philadelphia Eagles!