Meet Paula

It’s Never Too Late

Paula Perez had always loved working with children. She’d been working with K4 (preschool age) children as an assistant, which is how she discovered her passion for working with that particular age group. She loved to watch them grow and learn, and she especially reveled in those particular moments when she saw “a light turn on in their head, like they get it,” when she helped them reach a developmental milestone.

After 13 years of being a teaching assistant, Paula set her sights on a new goal—she wanted to become a lead K4 teacher. She knew that in order to do this, she needed to get a degree. And though she understood the challenges before her, Paula felt some trepidations about returning to school as a student in her forties, which is how most anyone in Paula’s situation would feel. There also was the looming question all people pursuing higher education face: how to pay for it all?

Sometimes when you put an intention out into the world, the universe takes note and opens up a path for you. For Paula, this path came in the form of Martha Tucker. Martha is an associate professor of early childhood development and reading at Danville Community College and happened to go to the same church as Paula. Martha not only introduced Paula to the Early Childhood Education program at Danville, but also pointed her to available scholarships and funding especially for students enrolled in ECE programs at Virginia Community Colleges.

With a clear path set before her, the only thing left to do was dive in. The financial aid and scholarships she received helped take care of everything from textbooks and classes to other fees. “My husband and I both work, so there wasn’t any financial aid available for me—without the help of (that funding), I wouldn’t have been able to do this financially.”

As for that nervousness she was feeling about going back to school (and with those much younger than her no less), she again found help in the program’s advisors. “As a 44-year-old I was very nervous to enter back into school, but the advisors [in the ECE program] take that all away and give you all the encouragement that you need if you’re feeling intimidated by entering class with a 19-year-old. Just getting the right people in place can make a difference—the advisors gave me the confidence I needed to enter that room and be a leader, not a follower. They’re compassionate and passionate about what they do, and that’s poured into you, and you pour it into the children.”

Paula is continuing to work towards her associate degree in Early Childhood Education at Danville Community College. She has about three semesters left and anticipates completing her degree in May of 2019.