The student news site of The Harker School.

Harker Aquila

The student news site of The Harker School.

Harker Aquila

The student news site of The Harker School.

Harker Aquila

Meet your staff: Compassion in coordination

Attendance Coordinator Ritu Raj finds fulfillment in resilience coaching
Attendance+Coordinator+Ritu+Raj+smiles+as+she+reads+an+email+at+the+front+desk+in+Main+Hall.+In+addition+to+tracking+the+attendance+of+over+800+students+at+the+upper+school%2C+Raj+promotes+wellbeing+and+supports+those+around+her+through+resilience+coaching.
Ella Yee
Attendance Coordinator Ritu Raj smiles as she reads an email at the front desk in Main Hall. In addition to tracking the attendance of over 800 students at the upper school, Raj promotes wellbeing and supports those around her through resilience coaching.

Arriving late because of traffic? Need to leave school early for a doctor’s appointment? Upper School Attendance Coordinator Ritu Raj can help you. Seated at the Main hall front desk, she is the first person many students interact with after arriving on campus and the last person they talk to before heading home.

Raj joined Harker as a preschool teacher 10 years ago. Interested in operations management, she took on the role of after school program director three years later and began mentoring new assistant teachers. During the pandemic, Raj became attendance coordinator. She currently takes care of the daily attendance records of upper school students and facilitates discussion between students, parents and teachers before planned absences.

“My main role is to keep all 800 students safe,” Raj said. “I take attendance each period, and we have closed campus also. I have to keep a close eye if somebody has to leave early or come in late. They all have to go through approval by me.” 

Receptionist Ted Ujifusa, who has worked with Raj for two years, notes how the laughter they share at the front desk brings happiness to his job. Whether she’s writing tardy slips or calling home, Ujifusa admires how Raj approaches her responsibilities with empathy and warmth.

She’s very professional, but at the same time, she’s very caring about the kids

— Receptionist Ted Ujifusa

“She’s very professional, but at the same time, she’s very caring about the kids,” Ujifusa said. “She’ll ask how they are. If they’re not looking good, she will right off the bat [tell them] ‘go see the nurse’ … Sometimes if you’re professional, you can just be stone cold, but she’s able to incorporate a bit of humanity in the way she deals with everybody.”

Outside of Harker, Raj finds a passion for helping young adults through their mental health struggles. She describes mental health as a topic “always in [her] path,” having studied brain health and mindfulness for her master’s degree in education at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

During the pandemic, Raj noticed how sudden lifestyle changes were negatively impacting students’ mental wellbeing, which inspired her to use her academic background to support those around her. She began sharing mindfulness techniques with her daughters’ friends, whom she had interacted with prior to the lockdown.

“I had two teenagers, [and] at that time, I noticed how they were struggling with the [shift] online,” Raj said. “Everything shut down, and they couldn’t meet with their friends. I started helping my daughter’s friends, [and] they started connecting with me more and the parents were like, ‘Oh, the kids are not talking to me that much openly, but they are open to come to you,’ because there wasn’t any judgment [from] my end.”

Desiring to reach a larger community, Raj earned a certificate as a resilience coach for young adults and high school students. She established a self-run coaching organization that reaches most clients through word of mouth. 

I don’t feel tired because I love helping others, seeing that I’m creating an impact in their life and seeing that I’m able to help others build a good relationship with their parents, with me as their facilitator

— Attendance Coordinator Ritu Raj

Now, coaching is built into Raj’s everyday routine. She takes calls from clients before arriving at Harker, after returning home and on weekends. Although she balances a packed schedule with coaching and overseeing student attendance, Raj’s passion for her jobs fulfills her. 

“I don’t feel tired because I love helping others, seeing that I’m creating an impact in their life and seeing that I’m able to help others build a good relationship with their parents, with me as their facilitator,” Raj said.

In addition to her work as a resilience coach, Raj coaches women leaders to set boundaries in the workplace. She believes in the importance of a work-life balance, especially for working women who feel pressured to take on more responsibilities. 

“My friend circle, they are high-achieving women,” Raj said. “But I have noticed [for] some of them, it was hard, being a woman, to say no. They always felt like if [they were] saying no, a male counterpart would say, ‘Oh, I can do it.’ But I’m a big believer that you have to create a boundary. You should never ever feel that if I’m saying no, then that means that I’m not good at my work or somebody else can take my position.”

Raj recalls how she used to work into the night and took calls as late as 10 p.m. She realized her job was eating into her family time and now stops working at 8 p.m. Her struggles with  prioritizing time for herself inspired her to help other women in the workplace.

“Whatever I teach others is everything I have ‘been there, done that,’” Raj said. “When I was starting to build my career, I had no boundaries … I was like, ‘Okay, if a nine o’clock call comes, yes, I’m there. If you need anything, yes, I will email you. And at 10 o’clock, I’ll check my email.’ But then later, I realized my husband was supporting me. After work, it’s time for my family… And my kids are happy. They’re happy that after coming home, Mama’s time is mine.”

She is just the most positive person, and I love being around her because if I am in a funk, she will definitely find a way to change it

— Amy Hauck, counseling assistant to the upper school academic counselors

Raj’s experiences in coaching shape her interactions with Harker students and faculty. Amy Hauck, a good friend of Raj’s and counseling assistant to the academic counselors at the upper school, reflects on how Raj has changed her attitude towards obstacles.

“She has taught me to always see the good even in a bad situation,” Hauck said. “Instead of me saying, ‘Well, I don’t know if this is going to work,’ she would say, ‘No, it is going to work, because you have to be positive and you have to manifest it. You don’t want to bring negative energy into something.’ She has a beautiful soul. She is just the most positive person, and I love being around her because if I am in a funk, she will definitely find a way to change it.”

Whether it’s writing a late slip, coordinating extended absences or helping a teen navigate stress, Raj aims to support and empower others in every situation.

“I try to instill [compassion] in my interactions with students and faculty,” Raj said. “One of the students [got in] an accident, so he was definitely very down. So I definitely sent quite a few emails to the mom, like, ‘if you need any support, I’m here.’ Those small things, just saying that I am right there next to you if you need me… Those kinds of things I try to do whenever I possibly can.”

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About the Contributors
Mendy Mao, Reporter
Mendy Mao (10) is a reporter for Harker Aquila, and this is her second year on staff. This year, Mendy wishes to improve her interviewing skills. In her free time, she likes to read short stories and play the violin.
Ella Yee, Aquila Co-Editor-in-Chief
Ella Yee (12) is the co-editor-in-chief of Harker Aquila, and this is her fourth year on staff. This year, Ella hopes to continue bonding with the journalism staff and highlighting diverse perspectives within the local community. In her free time, she loves to dance, drink matcha lattes and watch Kdramas.

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