Natalie Critchley: Coach of the Year to HopSkipDrive Strategic Account Executive
Written by Aylin Cook
HopSkipDrive Strategic Account Executive Natalie Critchley’s dream of working in education began when she was inspired by a high school teacher. Natalie became a teacher and coach, winning Coach of the Year in her very first year coaching girls’ softball!
At HopSkipDrive, Natalie puts her experience in education and her passion for seeing kids succeed into her work helping schools and districts in the D.C., Maryland and Virginia region.
Share your background and journey in education.
Growing up in Virginia, my favorite teacher was my high school health & PE teacher and basketball coach, Karen Poindexter. Mrs. P was a great person. She was tough and radiated integrity. She became the middle school principal, a role model, a mentor, and later, a client. I was passionate about wanting to teach and coach just like her.
I earned a B.A. in Education with a teaching certificate in Health & PE from Lenoir-Rhyne University in North Carolina. After graduation, I decided to stay and start a teaching career. I became a member of the coaching staff for varsity football, girls basketball, and girls softball. I won a “Coach of the Year” award my first year coaching girls softball. I couldn’t have done it without the tough love and lessons I learned from Mrs. P. It was one of the most challenging seasons of my young adult life.
After leaving the classroom, I pursued a career in sales and landed back in familiar territory with educational sales. Having taught in the classroom, I have another level of appreciation for the time, energy, effort, and love educators give to students every single day.
What attracted you to HopSkipDrive? To your current role?
A recruiter found me on LinkedIn. I hadn’t heard about HopSkipDrive, so I inquired about the position and the company. I had no idea this type of platform was available to consumers and school districts, and I was excited about it! I loved the company’s mission and values, the fact that it was founded by women, and the cool technology. The opportunity to help vulnerable kids and offer parents the opportunity to provide transportation for their kids to and from after school activities might not happen without a company like ours. I was one of those kids who was fortunate enough to be picked up after practice and games by my mother. However, not all kids have an opportunity to try new activities due to the lack of transportation. Transportation shouldn’t be an obstacle, and that’s what I love about HopSkipDrive.
How do you feel your education background makes you uniquely suited to your role/HopSkipDrive?
After teaching, I pursued a career in Educational Sales. For 20 years I worked with schools and districts at all levels. I learned about all of the challenges educators face each day through my meetings with administrators, teachers, and counselors.
The demands put on transportation departments especially are very challenging. Transportation departments are responsible for organizing transportation for general ed students, students with special needs, McKinney-Vento students, students in foster care, sports teams, field trips, activity buses, and so much more. Having been on the other side working in education and requesting buses and drivers, I understand how difficult planning transportation for students can be.
Can you think of how your schools/districts could have used a service like this?
Our after school activities had only one or two buses going in a couple of directions. The bus rides were long for some of the students who lived in rural suburbs. Not every student had parents with two cars working 9 to 5 jobs who were able to pick them up. This led to some kids always being left out of activities due to limited transportation.
HopSkipDrive would have given our school district and parents another option. It makes me sad to think that a student may not have been able to participate in after school activities due to obstacles with transportation. With HopSkipDrive, there wouldn’t have been any excuse for a student to miss out on an activity that could help them reach their full potential.
Can you tell a story in which transportation meant accessibility to greater opportunities – this can be from your own life or what you saw in your education career.
I had amazing coaching opportunities early in my teaching career. There were times while coaching that our practices started and finished late. Activity buses ran right on schedule so if a student athlete missed the bus, I drove them home. I was the CareDriver! Back then, I wasn’t aware of McKinney-Vento students and students in foster care needing assistance getting to and from school.
Having been at HopSkipDrive for just over 6 months, I’ve had the opportunity to speak with and work with the individuals responsible for the transportation needs of some of our most vulnerable students. They work so hard to make sure that every student, no matter their situation, has a safe ride to school.
What do you love most about working to give children opportunities?
Every child deserves a chance to succeed. Transportation should never be the reason some students can’t get to their school of choice or can’t participate in after school activities.
Helping students in need warms my heart. It’s not “Which kid can we help today?,” it’s “How many kids can we help today?” Who knows how many young lives we will touch. That’s exciting to me!
What else would you like to share?
Teaching has impacted my life in so many ways. I was fortunate to have taught and worked with schools that had state and local government support. I was given an opportunity to travel to Guatemala to build a “Bottle School” for one of the neediest villages in the mountains outside of Antigua. (Read more about Bottle Schools below.)
Traveling to a third world country opened my eyes to many things. From 1960 to 1966, Guatemala was ravaged by a civil war which destroyed entire villages and cities, including the schools. Education is free, though the cost of uniforms, books, supplies, and transportation makes it less accessible to those who aren’t financially well-off.
Transportation is the biggest obstacle. For students living in mountain villages, the ride to school could be up to two hours on a good day. The roads are narrow and leave little room for driver error.
My week in Guatemala put me back into a classroom with amazing, happy children who were so grateful to have a school again! It was one of the most memorable experiences of my lifetime.
Bottle schools are a 100% community and volunteer effort. All unskilled labor is donated by the local villages to build the frame and mix cement. Hug It Forward allows kids of all ages to help in the build out process.
Environmental education is an important part of every bottle school project. Community members turn trash into the building blocks for the future, while learning about ways to clean up their villages and dispose of organic and inorganic waste. Most mountain villages don’t have the luxury of a waste management system. Our village didn’t have any running water.
Eco-bricks become the replacement for cinder-block. They are created by stuffing inorganic trash like plastic grocery bags or chip wrappers into empty plastic soda bottles. They are sandwiched in between two layers of chicken wire and covered with cement to form the filling for the bottle classroom walls. Villagers spend up to 3 hours packing trash into each bottle. It’s a community project that takes months to complete.
Each bottle classroom needs around 3,500 eco-bricks to build, so whether it be a 2 or 3 bottle classroom construction every project will need the participation of all community members to help create the number of eco-bricks necessary.
Each bottle classroom project brings together the local community and municipality to create new educational spaces for the future of their community’s children. Partnerships with these entities provide each project with unskilled and skilled labor that allows us to build each bottle classroom for roughly $7,000, which is much cheaper than the more traditional cinder-block construction.
We raised $21,000 and built a 3 classroom school house. The frame was set before we arrived. It took our team of 25 people plus the kids just shy of 11000 bottles in six days.
That week put me back in a classroom with amazing happy children who were so grateful to have a school. It was one of the most memorable experiences of my lifetime.
Working with HopSkipDrive has allowed me to help vulnerable students here in the US get to school so they can learn and find the success they deserve.
I love this company, the mission, the values, and the fabulous people!