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From boardroom to classroom Allison K. Sampite | Sat, Jun 04 2011 12:00 PM

Chula Vista resident Susana Stevens gave up a lucrative career as an executive in Mexico to give back to her people.

"You get to a point in your life when you want something more rewarding," she said.

Stevens took a 30 percent pay cut several years ago when she decided to follow her heart.

Stevens grew up in Mexico, her father a Mexican naval officer. When she was in the second grade her family moved to Maryland so her father could serve as a diplomat representative of the Mexican Navy.

"I had to go to school when there was no bilingual education," Stevens said. "It was hard for me to be in a classroom where no one spoke Spanish. It was very traumatic for me."

Stevens said it was that single experience that led her to stop climbing the corporate ladder.

"I reflect back on that and thought if I can help students learn English as a second language I could help them not go through what I did," she said. "I believe in order for you to acquire a second language you need to be in a non threatening situation."

Stevens met her husband Caleb while working at a power supply company in Tijuana. Starting off as a recruiter, she quickly became a personnel supervisor and within three years she was a human resources manager.

"I was working very hard, always going beyond my position," Stevens said.

Stevens later graduated from the University of Guadalajara with a degree in psychology and went on to get a master's degree in bilingual education as well as a California teaching credential.

In her late 40s, Stevens moved to the United States and has lived in Chula Vista for the last 15 years, where she took another corporate-type job but soon grew restless.

"I wanted a change," she said.

Stevens has taught at Central Elementary School in Imperial Beach for the last five years and currently teaches fifth grade.

"Being a teacher is very rewarding because I see what students are learning each day and how they are growing," she said.

Stevens has trained in several programs to help her students transition from one language to another.

"Right now I'm doing a program I am very proud of because I see a lot of progress from the students," she said. "I am very encouraged because we are providing the students with a setting that they are comfortable with."

Armando Lopez is Stevens' principal at Central.

He said Stevens works hard to teach Spanish speakers English. "She users her background to help students and works hard to master strategies," he said.

Lopez said that Central's goal is to transition students effectively into English-speaking classes.

Stevens said she would like to continue teaching until she retires. "Sometimes my kids come back to me and thank me for teaching them English, which gives me hope," Stevens said. "This keeps me going and gives me all the energy I need."

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