MILWAUKEE — Maya Smart helps parents nurture, teach and advocate for children on the road to reading.
"It really bothered me to hear stories of people whose kids arrived in kindergarten and were told that they were already behind. So it didn't sit well that someone could be behind at the beginning of school, so obviously there are things that parents need to know prior to school to help set their kids up for success," said Smart.
Her goal is to help raise a nation of readers and help provide tools to put it all into practice in daily life with young kids. To help achieve that goal, she has a website, a blog and on July 26, she'll release a new book.
"It's called 'Reading For Our Lives: A Literacy Action Plan from Birth to Six' and it really is a compilation of all the things that I learned through my journey raising a reader and also through a lot of research and interviewing, to find out the best practices and things that really work for parents," said Smart.
Maya moved to Milwaukee with her family a little over a year ago when her husband, Shaka Smart, took on the role of Head Coach of the Marquette Men's Basketball Team.
"I didn't really have familiarity with Milwaukee, my very first time was after Shaka accepted the position here, so I was really excited to check it out," said Smart.
In case you're wondering, the cold and snow was nothing new. She's originally from Akron, Ohio and her husband is from Madison. "My husband is from Wisconsin, so I always tell people that snow builds character (laughs). So I was looking forward to that," said Smart.
You will definitely see Maya Smart on the sidelines cheering on the Golden Eagles, but it doesn't stop there. She serves as Affiliated Faculty in Educational Policy and Leadership in the College of Education at Marquette University, and Marquette President Michael Lovell has described their leadership as a couple as inspiring.
"We have really loved our time being a part of the Marquette community and when you're in a new place, you see things with fresh eyes sometimes. And so one of the things that we noticed was just some of the challenges faced by Black students on campus. So Shaka actually had the idea to create a Student Success Fund that would help people with those things that come up in every life," said Smart.
Maya's resume alone is inspiring. She has a B.A. in Social Studies with honors from Harvard University and a Master's Degree from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. What advice does she have for other young women?
"So I would say to young women to take every opportunity within your job and outside of it to hone your skills, to build your network and connect and just keep learning and growing. 'Cause you never know where you're going to end up," says Smart.
Maya also has some advice for parents who are trying to keep their young ones busy and learning during these summer months. "With the little ones, try to make everything an adventure and remind yourself to talk more than you originally would. There are all sorts of things even just outside in our neighborhood: the trees, the bugs and all the things that we can see as an opportunity to talk and to teach, and learn. And learn in the moment, right? Exactly!"