Arely CardenasArely Cardenas once walked the halls of Woodward Elementary School as a bright-eyed student with a passion for learning. Now, her life’s journey has returned her to the familiar educational setting where she learned that anything is possible.

As the school’s newest first-grade teacher, it’s a lesson she’ll instill in her students.

“When it came time to decide on a major for college, without a doubt, I knew I would be going into education,” Ms. Cardenas said.

“I wanted to become a teacher so I could show kids who look like me and come from a similar background all they can be. I never really had Latinx teachers growing up, so I wanted to bring that representation into the education field.”

Ms. Cardenas said she has always loved school. Her mom taught her at an early age the importance of education. She loved helping her classmates and teachers and admired and respected all her teachers. One of which was her former fourth-grade teacher Mrs. Robin Thomas, formerly Ms. Simmons.

Arely CardenasWhen Ms. Cardenas toured the school after she was hired, she saw Mrs. Thomas in the front office and couldn’t believe she was now coworkers with her former teacher.

“I was shocked,” she said. “I felt proud at that moment to show Mrs. Thomas what had become of me.”

“I was ecstatic! I was proud and just overwhelmed,” Mrs. Thomas said. “I was so proud but not surprised. She was always an awesome student and so smart.”

Mrs. Thomas, who is now an English to Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) teacher and in her 16th year at Woodward Elementary, still had the class photo that Ms. Cardenas was in. She remembered her face and easily pointed it out in the photo.

“I’m very proud that she chose this profession because we need awesome teachers,” Mrs. Thomas said. “She was a second language learner, and she’s coming into a building with second language learners. I think it’s so awesome that our kids can see that you can come from this environment and population and be whatever you want to be.”

Ms. Cardenas says she is excited to serve the community that gave her so much growing up. She is a proud 2016 graduate of Dunwoody High School. In 2020, she completed her education degree at Georgia State University. It wasn’t too long before a bit of destiny took over.

Arely Cardenas“I attended the DeKalb Career Fair, and I went straight to the Woodward booth,” Ms. Cardenas said. “The opportunity to work at the school I attended was not something I could pass up. When they offered me the position, I, of course, took it.”

Mrs. Thomas said seeing Ms. Cardenas becoming a teacher is worth the hard work she put in to be a great educator.

Every struggle, every night of planning—it’s all worth it. If I can make a difference in one student’s life, especially a student that turns around and chooses this profession, it’s all worth it.”

As Ms. Cardenas prepares for the new school year, she wants her students to know that they can expect a teacher who cares deeply about their growth and success.

“I want them to know all the opportunities they will have in the world, and I want to help build a strong educational foundation for them,” Ms. Cardenas said.