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Former Grady MS student follows in her teacher’s footsteps

2013 January 31
by HISD Communications

In this week’s I am HISD, which features district students, graduates, volunteers, and employees, Park Place ES student teacher Joanna Subias discusses how her experiences as a bilingual student at Grady MS encouraged her to become a teacher and give back to her community.

Joanna Subias (left) with former teacher (and now colleague) Linda Riehl

What experiences as an HISD student have most shaped the person that you are today?

It wasn’t one specific experience. I moved here in the sixth grade from Mexico and I didn’t speak a word of English. I remember someone outside of school saying, “You know, it’s going to take forever for her to learn the language.” And I remember thinking “I’m going to prove you wrong.” I was in Advanced Placement (AP) courses in ninth and tenth grade. This just shows what a difference great teachers and great schools can make. It was really feeling encouraged, like my teachers really, truly wanted me to succeed. That makes a huge difference.

In the past you have served as a tutor, a school board member and a PTO member. Currently, you are a Girl Scout troop leader, a room mother at Briargrove ES, and you were recently awarded the Servant Leader Scholar Award from the University of Houston–Clear Lake for your work with St. Paul’s Emergency Aid Coalition, which provides clothing and food for families. What do you find so rewarding in volunteering?

Volunteering was a life-changing experience. I had never volunteered with the Houston Food Bank or the Emergency Aid Coalition. I had no idea there was so much “need diversity.” If you can make even just a little bit of a difference, why wouldn’t you take the time? When I go, my kids go with me. We volunteer as a family. It’s a great experience for them, because they are seeing another side of the city. One “a-ha” moment was being at my son’s Boy Scout meeting, and someone said, “Okay, guys, you have to leave it better than you found it.” I would like to leave my community just a little better than I found it. I came here as a little girl not knowing anything, and all of these strangers were really invested in making sure that I succeeded, so why wouldn’t I try and do that for someone else?

You are a student teacher of bilingual education at Park Place Elementary School. What made you decide to become a teacher?

I decided to go back to school and I wasn’t sure what to do. I went into it with a very open mind, and I started to remember Ms. (Linda) Riehl at Grady Middle School. Looking at it from a teacher’s perspective, she just had the good stuff. She never made us feel we were any less for not speaking the language; she never talked down to us. She always told us, if you think you can do it, you are going to do it. She set really high expectations for us and really challenged us. We all wanted to make sure we were doing a good job for her and working hard, and we didn’t really know we were learning a whole lot in the process. If I could be half the teacher she is, then I can make a difference in these kids’ lives.

What do you think the biggest challenge will be in helping students learn English?

Teaching is not the hard part. To me, the challenge is the misconceptions that people have about what the bilingual program is. I think one of the biggest misconceptions is that we are not teaching any English – just Spanish. And you do have to build on the first language, but you teach a second language on top of the first. There are different types of bilingual programs available for students. It’s about informing yourself.

Your children now attend Briargrove Elementary School. What advice would you give to your children to get the most out of their time in school?

I would tell them they need to take advantage of every opportunity that is presented to them. Get to know what programs are at the schools. Briargrove has the Name That Book contest, which gets kids reading. Some schools have Odyssey of the Mind, which really challenges students. My second year here, I entered the spelling bee and I got fifth place. It’s about finding out what your school offers, what you are interested in, and taking advantage of those opportunities.

If you know an HISD graduate, student, volunteer, or employee who should be featured in I am HISD, please email us at
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