Sinead Abarca found her true calling in education, even if it happened a bit later than she anticipated. When she graduated from high school in 2009, she had a plan to jump right into a four-year university. However, when a scholarship she had planned on fell through, her plans changed. She reluctantly made the decision to enroll without the scholarship in place even though she didn’t have a clear plan.

“It was a bit of a tough time because I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do,” Abarca said. “I knew I wanted to pursue education but I wasn’t sure what grade I wanted to teach. I wasn’t enthusiastic about school at that time.”

She struggled to adjust to the classroom and was unsure how to move forward with her education. She made the decision to withdraw from school and put her education on hold. It was while working at the El Valor Children & Family Center in a supplementary role when she realized what she had to do next.

“I learned a lot about parent engagement, taught in the classroom and did some family service work,” Abarca said. “I thought about getting into family counseling but I really enjoyed being in the classroom with the kids. When my first child was born, that’s when I decided I needed to go back to school.”

Abarca returned to Truman College in 2017 and completed her associate degree in Child Development Pre-School Education in the summer of 2019. She recently transferred to Roosevelt University where she is working towards a bachelor’s in early childhood education. She has done all this while raising her own children and working at the El Valor Carlos Cantu Center as an infant toddler teacher, where she oversees a classroom of eight students, aged 15 months to 3 years.

“In the classroom, you are able to create an environment and a safe space for the children,” Abarca said.

“It’s nice to see them transition them from their first day of class where some of them have only ever been with their parent or grandparent to independently grow on their own. It’s also nice to collaborate with parents and support the families when they need it.”

The hands-on experience at City Colleges helped prepare Abarca for life in the classroom and her continued education at Roosevelt.

“Children all develop differently I learned by observing children and by doing that, they can tell us a lot about what is going on in their life,” Abarca said. “It’s important to not expect a product from them but understand the process of child development.”

Abarca said her ultimate goal is to become a coach for other teachers but for now, she is enjoying her time in the classroom and has a message for anyone who may be hesitant to return back to school after a long break.

“It’s not a race,” she said. “I think I felt like when I was just out of high school, I needed to get it done in four years. I wasn’t ready at the time but now I am.”

It has also helped that her tuition and books are covered by the Chicago Early Learning Workforce Scholarship (CELWS).

“This scholarship really meets people where they are,” Abarca said. “It is a very flexible scholarship and doesn’t require you to be a full-time student or anything.”

For more information about the CELWS program, visit the Chicago Early Learning homepage

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