- Iowa City Community School District
An Inspiration for All Ages
“I hope I can inspire someone who is thinking that it’s too late to go back to school. It’s never too late.”
Meet Sueli Sirena, a life-long learner working towards a teaching position through our Grow Our Own Program. She is currently a paraeducator at Grant Wood Elementary who has been serving students in our District since 2009.
Originally from Brazil, Sueli worked as a preschool teacher for six years, then English as a Second Language (ESL) and Portuguese at a public school in Brazil for five years.
Sueli moved to the United States in 1994 after being set up with her now-husband on a blind date while she was on vacation visiting friends in Connecticut.
“I came for a couple of weeks,” said Sueli. “I met him and stayed for six months. He didn’t want me to go back, so he proposed and we got married.”
After getting married, she began tutoring Brazilian students in her community, helping them learn English. She also worked at a daycare center, utilizing her early childhood education degree. This also allowed her to practice speaking English, as well as learn some English slang and idiomatic expressions.
“It was a big transition because you have to get used to a new culture. I was already fluent because I was teaching English grammar, but I had to practice more of my conversational skills.”
In 2009, she and her family relocated to Iowa, where she started working as a paraeducator at Grant Wood Elementary. She chose to work at Grant Wood because her son was a student there, and as he transitioned into junior high and high school, she transitioned with him, continuing her role as a paraeducator at both South East Junior High and City High.
Although Sueli had a teaching degree and experience being a teacher, she was not able to transfer her degree in the U.S. She thought about going back to school, but wanted to put her children’s education first.
“After I became a mother, I decided to dedicate my time to raising my kids, since my family was not here to help me.
She also wanted to save money for her children’s college tuition, so for her that meant not pursuing a degree for herself.
“I chose to invest time and money in my kids. Now that they’re independent, my own time has come.”
Sueli is part of the first cohort of students in the Grow Our Own Support Staff-to-Teacher program that launched in 2021.
When the information about Grow Our Own was released, Sueli wondered if her age would prevent her from participating in the program. According to Sueli, our District was looking for paraeducators who have experience and a previous degree in education. She had what they were looking for, so she took the challenge.
“I thought I was getting close to retirement,” said Sueli. “After some reflection, I just made a u-turn and decided to go back. I still have a long time to go and a lot of students to help.”
After graduating from the Grow Our Own program, Sueli is hoping to teach ESL to elementary students. She found her passion for ESL while working at City High, where the ELL students and teachers were her inspiration.
The Grow Our Own Program has allowed her to close the circle and finish her career in the same place where she started it. After completing the program, she will have a degree in Elementary Education, with an endorsement in K-12 ESL.
“The amazing staff behind the Grow Our Own program supported and inspired me to believe in myself,” said Sueli. “I am proud to work for a school district that does not discriminate against age or nationality. They embrace diversity and inclusion in the workplace like I have never seen before.”
One of Sueli’s favorite quotes is from Eugene Bell Jr: “Aspire to inspire before you expire”.
“That is what I want. To inspire people who think they passed their prime time and are reaching the end of the road. I tell them to make a U-Turn and take another exit! Don’t give up,” says Sueli. “There is always someone out there who can benefit from your help.”