Saranja Hicks has had a highly regarded career as a teacher, which she embarked upon in 2016, after deciding to go to graduate school to pursue her passion for educating young minds. While in school, she tutored students in literacy and math, and worked as a teaching assistant for Northwestern University’s Center for Talent Development (CTD), in their Weekend Enrichment Program (WEP), where she helped teach geometry to advanced kindergartners. Today, she is a classroom teacher and also serves as Executive Director of the Lit Youth Foundation.
Prior to returning to school to pursue a career in teaching, Saranja graduated from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 1998, where she obtained a Bachelor of Arts degree in Speech Communication. After graduating, she spent several years working in the financial industry. Upon having her first child, however, she decided to stay home for a while and focus on being a mom. During this time, Saranja worked remotely, part-time, as the bookkeeper for a literacy consulting company that was just starting. This proved to be the spark that piqued her interest in education. Over the next two year, her role within the company grew and Saranja became the Operations Manager, which increased her exposure to the educational side of the business. In 2014, she began to explore other opportunities within the field of education, which led to her becoming a Junior Sales Representative for Scholastic, and after that, an Operations Manager for Junior Achievement (JA). In her role with JA, one of Saranja’s responsibilities was to train volunteers on how to teach the company’s financial literacy curriculum to elementary students, and occasionally to directly deliver the instruction to students, herself. It was then that she realized her calling was to teach. Months later, she applied to graduate school and in 2016 was accepted to the University of Chicago’s Urban Teacher Education Program (UTEP). Through UChicago UTEP, she earned a Master of Arts degree in Teaching. Saranja spent her first 3 years of teaching with Chicago Public Schools (CPS), teaching gifted 1st grade students, and is currently employed in a south suburban school district as a 3rd grade teacher.
Saranja believes in the personal and professional benefits of continuing to position herself as a learner, as well as the positive impact that it has on her students. In 2022, she graduated from National-Louis University where she is working towards an Education Specialist degree (Ed.S.) in Curriculum and Instruction and is currently working to complete the Reading Specialist coursework.
Saranja is especially good at building relationships, which has resulted in a wide-range ability to meet the individual needs of students, socially, emotionally, and academically. Earlier in her career as a classroom teacher, she was known to invest extra time into personally tutoring a few of her students who needed additional academic support, regularly meeting with them after school or over the summer, at no cost to their families. Saranja discovered that students responded in overwhelmingly positive ways to her humanistic approach to teaching and ability to push their drive to learn. The relationships that she has built with students and their families has consistently translated into high academic success for her students. As early as her first year of teaching, she received an award from her principal for her students’ outstanding end of year achievements on the NWEA MAP assessment. Moreover, Saranja has consistently received a rating of Excellent in many areas of her teaching practice, and recently received an overall rating of Excellent, which is the highest possible rating that a teacher can receive on an administrative evaluation. As a result of her hard work and dedication to students, she has become a well-respected teacher by administrators and colleagues. Despite this, however, Saranja is most honored by the fact that former students and their families continue to keep in touch with her.