Bonita Springs — Spring Creek Elementary School is a labyrinthine maze of classrooms that boast no doors, with a library at its center. Colorful posters and signs demonstrating school pride decorate every wall. At one end sits Cynthia Hernandez’s 5th Grade classroom. The wall decorations are slowly being covered in preparation for the FCAT and “survival bags” are piled neatly on a back table.
For Ms. Hernandez, a daughter of migrant worker parents, becoming a teacher has become a living, evolving dream in which she can be the ultimate role model for her students and her own children.
How long have you been teaching at Spring Creek Elementary School?
I am currently completing my seventh year here.
Have you always envisioned yourself teaching at the 5th grade level?
I knew I wanted to teach at the intermediate level. I really wanted to be a positive role model for Hispanic students. I was a migrant child, and I want to show kids that they can do anything they set their minds to. Before this, I was a secretary for a principal at Bonita Middle for seven years, and I was ready to get into the classroom.
What separates the 5th grade experience from other classroom experiences during elementary school?
It’s definitely a transitional year. They need to get used to having eight teachers a day, so to prepare them we give them a separate reading teacher so that they can kind of get a feel for it. Independence is really important. Expectations are the same for everyone in the classroom. Rather than mom and dad being the liaison between home and the classroom, they become that go-between, which is something that they can carry all the way through high school and college. Responsibility is just really important for them to understand and accept.
Do you have any special end-of-the-year projects that you practice with your students?
Right after FCAT, we go to Busch Gardens, which they always look forward to. We also host a 5th grade versus the teachers softball game, which they love because it’s just them and the teachers.
But it’s not all games and parties [laughs]. We have Step Up lessons, which are 6th grade level lessons and the work level goes up a little. I want them ready for next year. They know that my expectation is higher, and it’s so interesting because every year I see a shift after winter break; they come back and they’re more mature somehow. They’re ready.
Do you have any preparations for them over the summer?
We give them reading lists. There’s also the Sunshine State Reader, which is a list of the level of reading that they should be completing for 6th grade. I also urge them to take advantage of the library.
Do you have anything special planned for summer?
I do a 4-week free reading program with Super Kids every summer. The great part is that anyone can participate and I really love it because I meet many of my incoming 5th graders that way. Last year, four of those kids were in my class.
I grew up a migrant child. This program gives me the opportunity to go back to my roots and really give back to my community. I want to show these kids that they can do anything they want, no matter what. They just have to work hard and put their minds to it.
Category: Teacher Spotlight