It was 1971, the year Sulamith “Sue” Arriaga graduated from Donna High School. She enrolled at Pan American University with a dream of pursuing a degree in Special Education. But soon after she started college, Arriaga’s career path took a different turn. Now, more than four decades later, she is retiring as a health care professional from the Donna Independent School District at the end of May.
Arriaga said she ended up at DISD thanks to a phone call she received from a friend. The DISD employee encouraged her to look into a job opening for a nurse aide at Guzman Elementary.
“My friend called to tell me that a new head nurse was coming in and was going to need a nurse aide,” Arriaga said. “She thought I would be the right person to help out. The superintendent at the time interviewed me and right away said to me ‘you’ve got the job, you’re perfect for the role.’ So, I went for it and became the first one in that department to be a nurse aide.”
The pressures of going to college and working at the same time became too much for Arriaga so she decided to drop out of school and focus on being a nurse aide with the district. She has no regrets. “I have loved every minute of my work,” she said. “I really have enjoyed it very much. Even though I left my education on the side, I felt I was getting educated because I worked under excellent nurses and RNs. I have learned a lot from them.”
As a nurse aide, now known as a Certified Nurse Assistant (CNA), Arriaga is responsible for assisting the nurse in charge including making sure that students are up to date with all their immunizations. She said the best part of her job is being able to help people.
“I’m the type of person who loves to help people regardless of their age,” Arriaga said. “In this job I do a little bit of everything. The students confide in me and tell me their problems. I talk to them and refer them to the counselor but health-wise, I love taking care of them. Yes, I’ve had my good and bad days like anybody else but I’ve enjoyed it because every day I’m learning. Honestly, I can say that I’m still learning from the nurses and the kids.”
Arriaga worked at the Guzman campus as a nurse aide for two years. From there, she moved over to LeNoir Middle School where she remained for eight years. Her next move was Todd Middle School. She then went to Donna High School where she ended up devoting more than 30 years of her services.
She admits she will miss her role as a CNA and the people she has worked with over her 45-year career. “I really hate to leave but there’s a time to say goodbye and I think this is the time for me to say goodbye,” Arriaga said. “A lot of staff members tell me they don’t want me to go and that makes me feel good. The school district is like my second home. I’m going to miss it.”
Arriaga wants these people to know how important they are to her. “I would like to thank them from the bottom of my heart because I love them all. They’ve been great to me. When my family was going through tough times, they would give me the time I needed to take care of them. I also want to thank them for teaching me a lot.”
Arriaga plans to do a lot of travelling, reading and visiting friends after she retires at the end of May. She would also like to come back to DHS on occasion because she said there is always a need for more help.