October 14, 2021 Believer Stories

Achievement Story: María Ruelas, District Alum and Principal

Maria Ruelas 2020
María Ruelas is in her seventh year as principal of Irving Dual Language Elementary School. A North High School alum, María has dedicated her career to making a differences in the lives of students within the Sioux City Community School District.

Sioux City, Iowa — Irving Dual Language Elementary School Principal and North High School alum María Ruelas defines perseverance. Each chapter of María’s life has been filled with unwavering tenacity and endless grit – for her goals, her family, and her students and staff.

When she was 15 years old, María moved with her family from Mexico to Sioux City. Her father fell in love with Sioux City and its educational system. Her parents worked in the meatpacking industry and sacrificed time together by working opposite shifts so they could take care of María and her five siblings.

Life certainly wasn’t easy. As the oldest child, María was expected to help care for her siblings and be a good role model at the same time as the family was adjusting to their new life in the United States.

“When we first moved to Sioux City, my English was very limited and my experience in high school was challenging,” recalls María. “My family came from a small town in Mexico, so walking into high school here was overwhelming and a culture shock. Fortunately, I had great adults who mentored me during my high school years. In the end, those people believed in me before I believed in myself.”

After finishing high school, María landed her first job working as an English as a Second Language (ESL) tutor at Whittier Elementary School. Four years later, she was promoted to a Family and Support Liaison in the District’s ESL office and started attending night classes at Western Iowa Tech Community College before later enrolling at Morningside University. María was newly married, expecting her first child, and working full-time while attending school. It was challenging, but María remained committed to her goals.

“Goals will only become a reality if you work toward them and remain focused on what’s important,” says María.

After completing her undergraduate degree, María became a special education teacher at Nodland Elementary School and Whittier Elementary School, followed by roles teaching fourth grade and serving as a teacher on special assignment and head ESL teacher for the District.

As María was finishing work on an ESL endorsement and working on her master’s degree, she discovered a new passion for becoming a principal. It was a step María felt was important to make a bigger differences in the lives of her students.

Today, María is in her seventh year as principal of Irving Dual Language Elementary School.

“The most rewarding part of being a principal is getting to see where our students start and then attending their graduation ceremonies. I am so proud when I hear their name being called,” says María. “As an elementary principal, I get to see the foundation of their schooling, however, I don’t see their whole journey until I see them as adults, graduating from high school.”

María credits her team at Irving Dual Language Elementary School for the integral part they play in students’ success.

“We love that our students come from many parts of the world, speak more than one language, and read and write in more than one language. It’s a skill that will not need to be upgraded to ‘biliterate 2.0.’ Once you are biliterate, it’s for life,” adds María. “You can see and feel a student’s struggle when they are just learning a new language. Later in the school year, I will see the same student working on manipulating their whole language repertoire. It makes my heart full.”

María encourages her students to get to know their history, their family roots, and their traditions while at the same time embracing the culture and people within the Siouxland community.

“Being able to be bicultural and bilingual has offered me the opportunity to be more open-minded about who people are and what they seek,” she adds. “It is a rewarding experience to be able to support and contribute to multiple cultures. Being part of a wonderful school like Irving Dual Language Elementary School brings me so much joy.”