Maria Hiyas Quelle has always had a passion for helping young students with their education, something she learned from her 12-year-old daughter and working with children as a volunteer and a paraprofessional.

Quelle and her husband, Scott, have a 12-year-old daughter, Mariarose, who was born with Down syndrome. Raising Mariarose, a sixth grade student at Willow Creek Middle School in Rochester, has changed the way Quelle said she views the value of education and engagement with students.

“I strongly believe all students can achieve and grow if given a chance and the right tools. My daughter has definitely changed my outlook in life and influenced me in making a decision to become a teacher. She teaches me everyday that with perseverance, hard work and a spunky outlook in life—I can overcome challenges,” Quelle said. “So, as a teacher, I will be bringing that in the classroom and also passing that attitude to my future students.”

Quelle has enjoyed working at Rochester Public Schools’ Bamber Valley Elementary School for the last six years, so when the opportunity to advance her education and teach more students came up, she jumped at the chance and applied for the paraprofessional-to-teacher program at WSU.

“WSU has helped me achieve my goals by creating this unique program,” said Quelle. “This program is designed specifically for people like me, those working in schools, with families and jobs, and have dreams of helping children in their education. This program is helping me realize my goals of teaching kids at schools and passing on my passion for learning.”

After two years in the program, Quelle will officially graduate with a Bachelor of Science in Education at 9 a.m. Friday, May 5, in WSU’s McCown Gymnasium.

During her time at WSU, Quelle said she was encouraged and supported to work hard as a student, employee and taking care of her family.

“Because of the way the classes were scheduled, I was able to go back to school and become a teacher, and at the same time take care of my family, with the big help of my husband, and still hold my part-time jobs,” Quelle said.

Outside of her course work, Quelle has been active with volunteering in multiple organizations in her community, including the PTSA at Riverside Elementary School and We Want You Back to School. She has worked with her church, Rochester Church of Christ, and as a parent volunteer and coordinator with the Rochester Down Syndrome Family Network and the Southeastern Minnesota Down Syndrome Parent Group.

Quelle has also been active in the Filipino community, organizing events for members, producing and directing productions for cultural presentations, and conducting cultural camps for children. She also worked to help Iraqi refugee families settle into their new country and deal with the struggles that come from immigrating.

Quelle plans to continue her education and hopes to earn a Master of Science in Education. She has applied for WSU’s Graduate Induction Program, designed for teachers entering the field without a large amount of experience. Quelle has also applied for a full-time teaching position with Rochester Public Schools.

“The most important thing WSU has reminded me, in a big way, is that hard work pays off,” Quelle said.

WSU Spring Commencement Ceremonies will be at 9 a.m., 12:30 p.m. and 4 p.m. Friday, May 5, in McCown Gymnasium. The 9 a.m. ceremony will feature the Colleges of Education and the College of Liberal Arts. The 12:30 p.m. ceremony will feature the College of Business and the College of Science and Engineering. The 4 p.m. ceremony will feature the College of Nursing and Health Sciences. For more information on commencement, visit http://www.winona.edu/graduation/commencement.asp or contact University Communications at 507-457-5024.

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Samantha Stetzer

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